Writing Update No. 3

So I’m writing a science fiction romance novel. About every two weeks now I post an update on my progress and what I’m planning to work on next. For more info about where I’m at with my book and what’s in it, check out my earlier update posts here and here.

For the last two weeks, my goal has been to work on editing/formatting for part two, which consists of about 11,500 words. My satisfaction level with completeness for part one was at about 90% when I left off with that section, so I was aiming for about the same confidence with completeness in part two. I’m not sure I’ll ever be 100% satisfied with anything I ever write (anyone else have that problem where you look back on something you’ve written even a few days before and there’s always something that makes you cringe?), so I think 90% satisfaction is a good goal at this point, which I think is the last round through before final edits.

Did I reach my goal?

More or less. My long-standing general dislike for all things sequel (with a few notable exceptions) has morphed into a general dislike of all things related to the number 2, so even though I actually like a lot of things about this second section, I went into it kind of reluctantly and struggled to engage with it as much as part one. But I did get all the way through every chapter in part two at least once, added the two character memories I wanted to include in this part to help build characterization, and I’m more pleased with the result than I thought I would be.

Whenever I’ve gone back to do edits previously, I worked hard for about 50 pages (which puts me about a third of the way into part two) and then I got distracted and thought of some other part I wanted to work on farther in, so I was afraid this part would need a lot of editing, which also made me more reluctant to work on it. There are a couple of spots still that I’ve made note of wanting to go back through and improve wording, but I did make a start on that and think I need a little distance from it before I can figure out how to get it exactly where I want it to be. This is about the same level that I’m at with the first part, so yeah, I’d say I ended up at about 90% satisfaction. I feel a lot better about this part than I started out, and I have between 60 and 70 pages now at the beginning of my novel that I would feel pretty good about sending on to my friend for an early look through.

There’s nothing actually bad about part two that should make me reluctant to work on it. I like the writing better in this section, actually, than even some spots of the first part, which I think needs to be the strongest when I send in my manuscript. It’s just that the second part is more emotional, and I’m more concerned about making sure the reader can connect to the characters and that all the love/tragedy feels hit in the right places. But it can’t be so intense that it turns readers away from the story or gives the wrong impressions about what the story’s about. So while I’m pretty happy about where the book starts and how the characters move on in part three, part two is such a balancing act that it makes me reluctant to touch it at all. I’m still worried about it, but not as much as I was going in.

And where am I going next?

My goal for the next two weeks is to reach the same level with part 3. I think this one’s closer to 10,000 words, but I know I have more work to do on this one than simple edits. I’ll have to adjust the formatting of the entire section to match the chapter divides that I worked out for parts one and two, which will also mean making sure that each chapter only focuses on one perspective. When I started writing, I wanted an omniscient narrator who could move easily between the thoughts of each of the main characters, but since I’ve been going back through I’ve decided to divide character focus by chapter. Some of these are pretty short (I actually really like short chapters anyway) because sometimes there’s only a small piece I want to make sure I include from someone’s perspective, but it will still mean a lot more editing for a part I haven’t divided this way before. Also, I’ll want to add another memory like the ones I’ve been working on in part two, which means there will be some new writing being added into this section.

Honestly I haven’t worked on part three in a while. I don’t remember for sure if all the plot points are fully written in yet (although I’m pretty confident that the structure of events is all in place), so I think I’ll have a little more work to do here than just the editing I’ve been focusing on in the earlier sections, but I’ll also want to go through and make edits once all the writing is in place. It’ll be a little bigger task, but I’m more excited about part three, so I’m up to the challenge.

I titled part two “Adaptation,” if anyone’s curious.

Do you let your own worries get in the way of your writing like I do? How do you cope with the pressure you put on yourself for the work to turn out a certain way?

I’d love to chat more with you about writing in the comments, if you’re in the middle of a project of your own. Good luck, fellow writers!


The Literary Elephant


Review: Landline

Rainbow Rowell’s books are a relatively new discovery for me, but I’ve been enjoying them enough that I picked up my third Rowell novel this month, an adult book titled Landline. I thought this romance story would make a great read for February, but after diving in without even reading the synopsis I discovered it would’ve made an even better December read, as it sports a Christmas timeline. I definitely still enjoyed the book regardless of its seasonal setting, and would recommend it for any time of year, though I do think it would be particularly resonant around Christmas.

About the book: Georgie McCool (yes, that’s landlineher real name, and no, it’s not the first time she’s been asked) is on the cusp of a high point in her TV career. Unfortunately, to finish the scripts for the comedy show she’s been working on with her best friend for nearly twenty years, she’ll have to miss Christmas with her husband’s family in Omaha. The very first day of his absence, however, though her dream is finally in sight, she begins to wonder if she’s made a mistake. She misses her kids, of course, but her biggest concern is that Neal was in a worse frame of mind than she realized when he left her at home. Georgie’s mom seems to think he’s not coming back at all. Georgie calls her crazy, but then Neal won’t answer her calls. He’s never around, and if he is, it’s only to fight with her or pass her off to the kids. Mostly, he doesn’t pick up at all. Until she plugs in the old landline phone in her childhood bedroom at her mother’s house and suddenly finds herself talking to a Neal of the past–1998 Neal, who’d broken up with her before Christmas that year by leaving her behind when he drove home to Omaha. Is it future Georgie’s job to fix past Georgie’s mistakes in her relationship with Neal? And even if she can salvage what was broken fifteen years ago, how will she repair the present damage without being able to talk to present Neal?

“Georgie always said ‘I love you,’ and Neal always said it back, no matter how perfunctory it was. It was a safety check, proof that they were both still in this thing.”

Worst aspect: I did not know there was any sort of magical realism in this book when I started reading, so the use of the landline phone as a conduit to the past really caught me by surprise. While I found I did like the idea of this scenario, and the writing here is possibly the best Rowell writing I’ve come across so far, it threw me off to have a magical element in the midst of this otherwise ordinary contemporary romance. Maybe if I had read the synopsis beforehand I would have enjoyed that element more, but I think what it needed most was some sort of explanation for the rules of the landline. It fits well into the story to see the two comparable Christmases Neal and Georgie spent apart, but “Christmas miracle” isn’t quite enough rationale for me in such a realistic story. This confusion over the magical element of the phone was the biggest obstacle for me in rating Landline.

It’s also worth noting that I was able to predict exactly what Georgie would do to save her marriage from the first layout of the problem in the opening chapters. Nothing in the middle of the book was predictable, and I had no idea how Neal would react to Georgie’s reaction, but I had no doubts through nearly 300 pages about what she’d do in the end. Still, guessing part of the ending didn’t bother me as much as the lack of explanation for the magic phone. And that’s a pretty small detail, too, I suppose. The book is about the romance, not about possible time travel of the vocal chords.

“If you were standing next to the person you loved more than everything else, wasn’t everything else just scenery?”

Best aspect: The ups and downs of Georgie’s and Neal’s marriage. There’s so much tension and love between them that every anecdote, as well as every new encounter, is a complete mystery when it’s introduced. The reader never knows whether to expect a happy or sad end to each section, and every emotion is portrayed with the same importance. The hardships are just as significant in this romance as the triumphs, if not more.

“She always fell for the guy in the room who seemed the least interested in her. The guy who was toxically arrogant or cripplingly shy. Or both. The guy at the party who looked like he’d rather be anywhere else.”

Also, shoutout to the characters’ healthy response to Georgie’s sister dating a girl.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Every single section of this story felt real and emotional. I was pulled in completely from the very beginning and kept me wanting to read every detail of Neal’s and Georgie’s relationship. The only complaints I had with this story were minor details. It was nearly a 5 star read for me. The romance pulls readers right in. If you’re looking for a cute (but also substantial) Valentine’s read, consider Landline.

Further recommendations:

  1. If you want to pick up another Rowell book and don’t know where to start, check out Eleanor & Park, my favorite Rowell read so far. This one’s a contemporary YA romance that hits on some hard topics and is also full of a diverse cast of characters and real-life challenges of modern teens. Whether you’re a teen yourself or looking back on those days, Eleanor & Park has some great messages to share.
  2. Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us is another adult romance that deals with a problematic marriage, as well as other difficult topics that occupy modern relationships. This one’s less cute and more powerful, but the heart-warming romance is definitely still there.

What’s next: I’ve just finished Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, an adult thriller packed with tragedy, love, and killer plot twists. While I work out my spoiler-free thoughts for that review, which I’ll post early next week, I’ll also be working on a writing update that I’m planning to post tomorrow about the progress I’ve made on my novel. Stay tuned to see how my writing project is going, and come back Monday for more reviews and book lists (coming soon: my Top 25 Favorite Books of All Time)!


The Literary Elephant

Review: We Should All Be Feminists

This tiny book is an essay by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, adapted from a TED talk she gave in 2012. I don’t want to write political posts here (or anywhere), but I think we can talk about feminism without turning it into a giant political debate. Why? Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists is first and foremost a definition and an appeal to humanity.

weshouldallbefeministsAbout the book: Adichie explores some of the backlash she has received for calling herself a feminist. Specifically, she addresses the struggles of being African and calling herself a feminist, but she stands firm in her beliefs and explains why her quest for gender equality should be called feminism rather than something more broadly encompassing of both genders–the female gender has been discriminated against for centuries, no matter which way you slice it: any fight for equality must take that into consideration.

“I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femininity. And I want to be respected in all my femaleness. Because I deserve to be.”

Conditions have certainly improved for women over the past several decades. Adichie argues that men have been favored by society since hunter/gatherer days because the (generally) greater strength of the male body meant that he was needed as the protector and provider of the family. But now, when men and women can work the same jobs for the same pay (although Adichie also notes that the higher up the corporate ladder one climbs, the fewer women one finds), there is no longer any reason for certain expectations to fall to the female–expectations of cooking, cleaning, child rearing, house tending, etc. Adichie uses anecdotes from her own life to prove that despite law changes, social expectations that preserve the unequal gender balance between men and women still remain.

“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.”

Without allowing her essay to become a list of personal complaints or a diatribe against men, Adichie proves that humankind still has some fighting to do in the name of equality–and that everyone would benefit from an evening of the scales.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. This essay really seemed to put some of my own scattered thoughts into words. It’s simply stated, easily understood, properly backed up with anecdotes that many people can relate to, and it makes some darn good points. In the end, I decided against 5 stars simply because I didn’t feel like I was discovering anything new. I haven’t read many feminism texts (by which I mean I can’t specifically name any, although I feel that in my essay class in college we brushed through the topic), and yet I felt like I’d heard all of this before. Don’t get me wrong–that’s a great thing. I love that these ideas about equality have a firm enough footing in the world that without trying I’d already acquired a solid definition. I just expected a little more from this essay once the meaning was established. I’m really glad I read this book, though, and I will definitely be reading more–not only from this author, but along this same topic in others’ words. Personally, it’s something I want to be educated about because I think it affects us all.

Equality for the win.

What’s next: I’ve just finished reading Rainbow Rowell’s adult romance novel, Landline. This one’s about Georgie (the dreamer and breadwinner) and Neal (the stay-at-home dad) who find themselves at a difficult point in their marriage, and the magical phone that unites the two (even if only to argue) across the country and across time. Check back tomorrow to find out more!


The Literary Elephant

Review: The Sun is Also a Star

I headed to my library a couple of weeks ago to pick up my first Nicola Yoon read, and choose The Sun is Also a Star. I’m also planning to read¬†Everything, Everything before the upcoming movie release, but for now I want to talk about the diversity, love, and equality between the gorgeous covers of The Sun is Also a Star.

About the book: Jamaican Natasha is about tothesunisalsoastar be deported with her family when she meets Korean American Daniel, who’s unsure where he stands between the future he wants for himself and the future his parents expect him to pursue. It’s a big day for both of them, but for some reason they can’t seem to let go of each other. Daniel believes it’s fate, but Natasha only believes in science. Besides, she doesn’t have time to fall in love because she’ll be living in another country in less than twenty-four hours.

“Secretly, in their heart of hearts, almost everyone believes that there’s some meaning, some willfulness to life. Fairness. Basic decency. Good things happen to good people. Bad things only happen to bad people. No one wants to believe that life is random.”

First, let’s look at the layout. The Sun is Also a Star is filled with alternating chapters in Natasha’s and Daniel’s perspectives, mixed in with which are snippets of other characters’ backgrounds and abstract details about culture that tie in with our main characters’ lives and thoughts.

Honestly, the extra sections feel pretty random at times. Some of them, the parts about the main characters’ parents, for instance, pertain to the story. Some of the others feel like informative but probably unnecessary lessons that are tied in to the story with only a few sentences at the end. Some of these sections even say things like “Natasha didn’t know this, but…” which emphasizes the feeling of the section not entirely belonging there. Books with unusual formats are exciting, but the format still needs to have a point. Instead, I felt at times that this book was trying to be too many things at once. Other times, it hit right on the mark.

Next, the diversity of this book is definitely a plus. The main characters come from vastly different backgrounds, and yet they’re so accepting of each other and the other people around them. Equality for the win. Despite how comfortable they are, though, they also make some important observations about equality in general that help the reader keep things in perspective:

“America’s not really a melting pot. It’s more like one of those divided metal plates with separate sections for starch, meat, and veggies.”

The best part about this book is that while the characters are unique and have their own cultures and habits, they’re very relatable people. I think that’s the point, really, of any diverse book–to prove that we’re all the same at the core. We all have fights with our families or friends, we all have dreams or goals, we want to feel like we belong somewhere. Some of the details may be new to some readers, but the emotions are familiar.

“It’s hard to come from someplace or someone you’re not proud of.”

Unfortunately, it’s a very predictable story. Of course the main characters are falling in love when love doesn’t fit into their schedules. There’s no mystery about the romance in this book. The beginning sets up the story. The middle is an exploratory section of what love and equality mean for these characters. And finally in the end we have some answers to the questions we’ve been waiting for since reading the synopsis. I could’ve loved this book so much more if it hadn’t been so predictable.

And yet, it’s an endearing tale.

“Maybe part of falling in love with someone else is also falling in love with yourself.”

While the romance is heartwarming, I also had some dissatisfaction with the instalove. Daniel’s infatuation-at-first-sight I didn’t mind. What I minded was Natasha being so adamantly against falling in love, and having good reason to be, and then suddenly thinking “this is something big, bigger then anything else, and I can see now that I’ve been wrong all along about love and this is it.” This is not a direct quote, but it’s the gist. It’s such a fast shift, and it comes too early. She seems like a person of strong convictions, and this is where she stands at first:

“We tell ourselves there are reasons for the things that happen, but we’re just telling ourselves stories. We make them up. They don’t mean anything.”

I realize things have to happen fast for a book whose timeline fits inside one day, but with over 300 pages I did expect a more gradual shift in emotion.

Can we also talk about the fact that the epilogue is labeled as “An alternate history”? Part of me is really tortured by the fact that “alternate” means it may not be what really happened; but another part of me–I think a bigger part–loves that it’s left a little uncertain. You never know what will happen. Whether its the universe or science or God or Fate that you believe in, you never know where it’ll lead you.

“Some people exist in your life to make it better. Some people exist to make it worse.”

And they all have a place.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars? There’s a lot to love about this book. I had a few small issues with the presentation, but I adored this story and the messages it sends. I appreciated the bittersweet ending, because fiction needs a little bitter and a little sweet to feel closer to reality, and this one truly feels like life. Not my life, but that’s why I read. It keeps me aware. I definitely recommend this one not only for fans of YA contemporary romance, but anyone who’s looking to read a little more diversely this year.

Further recommendations:

  1. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is another fantastic YA romance full of real-life problems about equality between races and genders, as well as other themes like poverty. Expect to learn a little about the world, but also to fall completely in love with the adventures of Eleanor and Park.

What’s next: Although Rainbow Rowell’s adult romance Landline was next on my TBR, I squished in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists between my TBR novels, and I’ll be sharing some brief thoughts on Adichie’s essay tomorrow. Although even the word “feminism” alone might be enough to turn some readers away, I think this essay is something every human being should read, as it focuses primarily on correcting popular misconceptions about the term “feminism” rather than arguing that women should rule the world, or some such. Check back tomorrow for more info–I’m excited about this one.

Are you planning to read more diversely this year? What are some of the books you’ve picked up already or plan to pick up to diversify your 2017 reads?


The Literary Elephant

Review: The Female of the Species

Mindy McGinnis’s A Madness so Discreet caught my attention in 2016, but when her newest YA book, The Female of the Species, was published soon after, I decided to make her newest release my first McGinnis read. After finishing my entire January TBR, I found myself with enough time to pick this one up at the end of January, and was shocked by how much I ended up liking it.

thefemaleofthespeciesAbout the book: Alex Craft has a violent streak that’s been primed to explode by the rape and death of her older sister a couple of years prior. This is how she becomes a murderer. No one knows, though, that this is how she’s coping, which may prove problematic for the boy in her senior class with a crush on Alex. All Jack has ever wanted is to get away from his small, dead-end hometown, but suddenly it has a little more appeal with Alex there, finally paying attention to him. Everyone agrees she’s intense, but Jack is in just the right position to find out how intense she’s really become. And then there’s Peekay, who fights the Preacher’s Kid stereotypes by drinking and swearing. She and Alex become friends while volunteering at the animal shelter, and without really trying, they each help to heal the other from the loss of Alex’s sister and the betrayal of Peekay’s (now ex)-boyfriend. They’re further thrown together when the cop who comes to talk at the school about alcohol and rape statistics singles out Alex and Peekay’s row of seats and claims that one of the girls there will be raped, and that it will likely be someone in the room of students who’s responsible. Sure enough, a party at the Old Church gets a little out of hand and a former student roofies a current one. Our main characters follow their instincts through the dangerous party and the fight that breaks out at the end, turning several lives upside down and paving the way for further trouble.

“Part of me knows that I should have never been admitted, that I should not be walking among these people. People who are able to make friends easily because they don’t first assume everyone is a threat. People who can get through a party without tearing a man’s face off.”

This is a book full of strong characters–especially strong female characters. Alex needs nobody’s help in any situation, and everyone knows it. Some are even afraid of her–as they should be. Peekay is a little smaller and a little more vulnerable, but she certainly knows how to stand up for her friends, her beliefs, and herself. Maybe she’s a little lost, but she has the world’s most supportive and understanding parents, and some great friends who prove just as protective as Peekay herself. She’s certainly earned some good karma by showing kindness and saving lives at the local animal shelter, and it turns out she’s got just as much to learn from the animals as they have to gain from her helping hand.

“You see it in all animals–the female of the species is more deadly than the male.”

I did think the violence was a little over the top in some places, though. With Alex, I could understand how one might be driven toward violence, but Peekay’s constant daydreams about harming the girl who stole her boyfriend seemed out of place. The narration tried to describe these as normal fantasies, claiming that thinking about violence can cure someone of actually committing any of those sorts of transgressions. It is possible to be upset with someone, though, without imagining brutally stabbing them or the like. Maybe I’m the only one with a nonviolent imagination, but it didn’t seem normal to me that Peekay was always daydreaming about hurting this other girl, or that those sorts of daydreams are healthy in any way.

Violence aside, there were a lot of factors I loved about The Female of the Species.

One detail I especially appreciated is the way small town life is depicted. I come from a small town myself, and I thought McGinnis did a fantastic job of explaining how life works for high school students in that environment. You really do know everybody else, at least by association; you can’t avoid ex-boyfriends or their new girlfriends. Your feelings about people change as time passes because that’s really the only way to gain new friends and enemies in a place where newcomers are rare and no one ever leaves. You party with the same people you see in class, and when something bad happens, it’s someone you know who does it, and the whole town will know about it practically before you can blink. Rape is always dangerous and disgusting, of course, but in this sort of contained environment McGinnis does an excellent job of showing how difficult it can become to speak out against it and to move on from confrontations. The setting is perfect for the messages McGinnis is emphasizing, and the characters fit into it well:

“I know Alex Craft. I know it in the sense that I could pick her out of my class photos from kindergarten on. I know her because people don’t leave this place and our parents know each other–hell, I’m pretty sure my mom dated her dad. I know her because everyone knows everybody here, and Alex especially because her sister is the only reason a news crew has been in this town, ever.”

The best, best part of this novel, however, is the encouragement it gives to stand up against rape. Even if reporting your attacker would mean getting your friends into trouble for the underage drinking they were doing at the party. Even if the attacker is a friend. Maybe especially in these cases because these are the people who think they’ll get away with it because their victims will be intimidated into silence. Peer pressure is real. Rape is real. It’s important to remind ourselves that there’s something that needs to be done, and something we can do to help, because, as Alex warns,

“…you know what? If you pretend long enough that it doesn’t bother you, pretty soon it actually doesn’t.”

Sometimes that’s a good thing (in context, this phrase was meant to help one of the main characters move on from a difficult breakup) but it can also serve as a reminder: some things we don’t want to end up tolerating out of habit.

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. There were moments where I began to feel skeptical because it seemed like this whole town revolved around rape; even in a small town, there’s more going on than that, but with a story as big as this one it would definitely take precedence, and in the end I think McGinnis handled the balance well. Each of the three characters whose perspectives the reader alternates between following is distinct and compelling–the transitions are handled well, and we see just the right details we need from each character. There are times when the narration goes backward a bit to cover the same ground through fresh eyes, but even in these cases all of the new details provided make that awkward shift seem necessary and smooth. This is a book that’s hard to put down, although the narration is so direct that there are also times the reader might want a break to take it all in. No matter how you read it though, please do.

Further recommendations:

  1. The classic Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, of course, is a great read about speaking up about rape even when it’s hard. This one’s a staple. If you haven’t read it yet and already know you like books such as The Female of the Species about fighting back, pick up Speak immediately.
  2. If it’s the strong characters you like best about this book, or the small-town setting, or some of the characters’ dark pasts, be sure to check out Jessica Knoll’s The Luckiest Girl Alive. In this one, Ani is fresh on the scene of adulthood with a cool job and a prestigious boyfriend, but she’s got a secret she’s still holding on to from high school, a secret that might destroy the new life she’s built for herself. This one has some great twists, and some more great underlying messages about feminine strength. If you like The Female of the Species, don’t miss this NA debut.

Coming up next: Last week I finished reading The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, and I’ll be sharing my thoughts on that one tomorrow. By the end of this week, I should be CAUGHT UP on book reviews, hallelujah! Reviews always seem to take the back burner around the end/beginning of the month while I’m posting plans and wrap-ups, which is fun but also hard to deal with later because I’m usually also reading extra during that time. I started The Sun is Also a Star, my first February read, with high expectations, and I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you about Natasha and Daniel’s one day together in New York City as one of them prepares for deportation and the other prepares for a future career that’s been forced upon him. If you like the strong characters in The Female of the Species, be sure to stay tuned for this next review, too!

What’s your first February read?


The Literary Elephant

Review: Faithful

I’d heard of this book’s release, and I’d certainly heard of Alice Hoffman, but Faithful was low on my radar until I saw it on my library’s new arrivals shelf and got a closer look. I was absolutely drawn in by the beautiful cover, and the description sounded like just the sort of sorrowful tale I was in the mood for during the snowy months, so I picked it up on impulse. It was not a mistake.

faithful2About the book: Shelby and her best friend were driving on a snowy night in a Long Island town when the car hit ice and slid off the road. Shelby is home again the very next day, but Helene, her friend, would never never wake from her comatose state. People believe she gained extraordinary healing powers, but Shelby can’t bring herself to visit and find out–believing her guilt and sorrow to be her penance for walking away from the accident while Helene lies ruined, Shelby doesn’t want to be healed. At first, she can barely stand to leave her parents’ basement, except to wander the town alone at night. Ben supplies her with pot at first, and then more than she can ever repay, but Shelby isn’t ready to move on. She sees misery every day, everywhere she goes, and tries to lessen that misery to start paying back her debt of wrongdoing. Her best friends are the dogs she rescues from abuse and neglect, and they keep her going even when she doesn’t want to move. There’s only one person who can save Shelby from herself, but she’s not sure he/she even exists. Shelby is receiving postcards from some anonymous source that she thinks may somehow be Helene, or her guardian angel. Someone pulled her out of the car that night before her mother and the ambulance arrived, but Shelby doesn’t remember much, and she doesn’t trust her flashes of recollection. She wishes the angel had helped Helene instead, but the angel knows no mistake was made.

“You rescue something and you’re responsible for it. But maybe that’s what love is. Maybe it’s like a hit-and-run accident; it smashes you before you can think. You do it no matter the cost and you keep on running.”

This book is beautifully dark. The main character starts the book with some pretty serious depression, and it’s the kind of narration that makes your soul weep but at the same time there’s this little voice in the back of your mind that says, “yes, I’ve thought that,” or “I would do the same thing.” In the horrifying scenario of having been involved in the demise of her best friend, Shelby succeeds in showing the narrator just how empty and meaningless life can become after such a tragedy. It’s not the sort of coping that anyone who hasn’t driven their best friend off the road and into a permanent coma can understand, and yet the reader is given this eerily close look at the devastation Shelby faces. We think we can sympathize. But Shelby shows us how much we just don’t know.

“She’s afraid of ruining someone else’s life. She wonders if there’s some sort of poisonous antibody in her blood that hurts anyone she’s close to.”

My favorite thing about this book is that although the emotions run heavy and the narrator is dark and twisted, the pacing of events in Faithful keep the story from becoming a constant sob fest. Shelby is deeply wounded and confused, but she’s out rescuing pets and errant teens and tackling one challenge at a time instead of curling up in a ball and waiting to die. Her thoughts are sticky and sad, but she keeps facing day-to-day life as it’s thrown at her, doing the best she can with what she has. It’s not much, but it keeps the story moving.

“Feelings are best left concealed. They can bite you if you’re not careful. They can eat you alive.”

Another perk: this is a book for animal lovers. Shelby adds more dog friends to her life than people, and the narration gives them each distinct “petsonalities” that are fun to watch throughout the book. And if you’re not a dog person, that’s okay too, because there’s a character who’ll agree with you, saying:

“I’m sticking with books. They never let you down and they don’t judge you.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. We all have dark thoughts sometimes. Maybe you didn’t send your best friend into a coma in a horrible accident at seventeen, but sometimes the world gets you down anyway. Misery loves company, they say, and it truly did feel a bit cathartic to share some depressing thoughts with someone who really understood them as well as Shelby. I don’t usually reach for particularly sad stories, but that’s the thing–this is the aftermath of the sad story. Shelby is still horribly sad, but it’s a story about finding hope and life again where it was once dead. The messages, ultimately, are positive and encouraging for anyone who feels down about their lot in life. Faithful is definitely more sad than happy, but it ends with the assertion that all is never lost.

Further recommendations:

  1. Emma Cline’s The Girls is another great novel about ups and downs and tragedy. Technically, this one features a fictional Manson-like cult in the late 1960’s, but more deeply, it’s about what it means to be a girl, to be human, and/or to have a difficult past. This book shows how easily one can be swept up in trouble and how to cope with the aftermath. It’s a powerful and emotional read about finding oneself.
  2. Lucky You by Erika Carter is a 2017 release about three girls in their early twenties who escape to a run-down house in the Ozarks to escape their troubles in life but realize they can find problems off the grid, too. This is a coming-of-age story that’s less sad but no less thought-provoking that Faithful; the characters are ridiculous and often wrong, but they’re searching for their place in the world just like anyone else. They merely take an odd path to their destinations. This is a great read for anyone who feels a little lost–because at least you’re not that lost.

P. S. Does anyone have any other Alice Hoffman recommendations for me? I may be interested in reading more works by this author but I don’t know where to start.

Coming up next: my final January read was Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species, a YA stand-alone that features three high school seniors whose paths intersect as their hometown struggles with several instances of rape. Each main character is affected in a different way, but the only way to stop abusers is to stand together and finally tell the truth. It’s a powerful new YA book that every teen should read. Check back early next week for more info.


The Literary Elephant

Review: Lucky You

Erika Carter’s debut novel Lucky You is an brand new/upcoming 2017 release that I received in my first Book of the Month Club box. This book is only available through Book of the Month until its scheduled release date in March, so I was excited to be able to read it a little earlier than most. If you’re looking for a great book for this spring/summer, read below to find out why I think this one would make a great pick.

About the book: Rachel is the sort of luckyyougirl who needs a cause. So when she decides to save the environment with her rich, egotistical boyfriend, she sets off to live in a run-down house in the Ozarks with a self-sustained lifestyle. Ellie is the sort of girl who believes that if she can’t see the trouble she’s caused for herself, it no longer exists. No matter what she does, she thinks can run away and start over if things get too difficult, so that’s what she does: drops everything and moves out to the Ozarks to join her friend’s cause without telling anyone but Rachel. And Chloe is the sort of girl who listens for voices in the static of the turntable and the “speaker holes” of the shower head. She’s pulling her hair out by the roots, but won’t admit she has a problem. Chloe is susceptible to believing what she’s told, so when Rachel tells her that moving out to the Ozarks with the others will make Chloe’s life healthier and happier, she listens and makes the switch. But it turns out four people can find just as much trouble off the grid, and their problems are not as easily ignored as they once imagined.

“It was warm and overcast when she left. There was something irresistible about leaving without telling anyone. It was like jumping on a train leaving town, tearing through the landscape, like the kind of character Crush Heat Burn sang about.”

This book is told through three perspectives and is divided into parts rather than chapters. The timeline is navigated by flagged months and years at the beginnings of the sections. I really enjoyed that loose sort of chronology to specific dates. (Am I the only one who can never keep track of the dates in books?) Separating time this way and alternating between characters really gives each section its own aura and helps the reader understand each character’s situation at its vital points even if the characters themselves remain just out of reach. There’s something disagreeable about each of them, and yet they all have thoughts we’ve thought before and can’t quite resist.

“People love stuff so much they just have to go and ruin it.”

“She watched until they were gone. A violent emptiness took over, a brutal vacant space; it was almost pleasant.”

This story is filled with irredeemable characters, but they’re intentionally unlikable. The book mocks them, and you have to keep reading to see what disaster they come up with next. We all know those people who say something and seem to mean it entirely, but even as they speak we know it’ll only be a matter of time before they turn a complete 180 and just as adamantly stand on the opposite side of the debate. These are people who are trying to fool themselves, and then wonder why they’re spinning in circles. But at the same time, as ridiculous as they are, they’re also completely ordinary. Readers can sympathize with the characters’ destructive impulses, the urge to have a cause just for the feeling of belonging to something greater than the self, the feeling of wanting a change so badly that it doesn’t even matter what the change is or whether it sticks–it’s just something to do that’ll open new doors.

“But Rachel would say no, a thing doesn’t just happen, you have to force it to happen, and then by the time you get it–it seems natural.”

“Soon she would quit doing ridiculous stuff like this. When her real life started, she would quit humiliating herself with ridiculous behavior.”

I found that this book would’ve made a better summer read than winter, although the timeline actually spans around two full years. The lazy, oppressive heat of summer from the middle of this book is really what stuck with me–the rest felt like “before” and “after.”¬† The whole narrative span, however, shares the same seedy and atmospheric quality that made the places feel like reflections of the people in them, and infinitely more real. There’s grit to Lucky You, and it’s this undeniable sense of difficulty and unpleasantness around the three main girls that prevent the reader from writing them off entirely. They’re bleeding souls, and they have reasons to bleed, but only the reader can see that their efforts to pick off the scabs are hurting rather than helping their chances.

“She had so many former selves now; she worried she would unravel and divide into all the copies she’d made of herself.”

“She didn’t want to be on nodding terms with any of her former selves. It made the world feel small. She worried, sometimes desperately worried, that all her previous lives were going to catch up with her.”

The end resonates with the beginning, giving a sense that nothing has really changed. This is the sort of ending that drives some readers mad, but I love it because it feels like real life. The end of a story is rarely the end–and Lucky You is a book that admits that. One of the main points I drew from this book is that people can go around and around in circles. That’s not to say there’s no resolution or character growth–but clearly no one’s perfect yet by the end, just as no one in reality is perfect, even after learning some tough lesson.

“She was twenty-three, and she’d done nothing. Would she still be nothing at twenty-four? Twenty-five? Thirty?”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. This is the kind of book that isn’t addicting as much as it is resonating. I didn’t feel that can’t-put-it-down compulsion to keep going, but after I put it down, little details would nag at me constantly until I picked it back up again, and then I had new fodder for thought until I picked it up again. This kind of narration is the stuff that’ll stick with you all day.

Further recommendations:

  1. The Girls by Emma Cline feels like an obvious comparison. Although the characters in this book aren’t in a cult, the narration has that same sort of mindless quality–the characters are floating through life, following friends and odd urges and learning about life by separating themselves from it. They’re older than the narrator of The Girls, but they have that same loyalty to each other, to a cause, that sets them on questionable paths and features those same relatable statements about what it means to be alive and not quite know where you’re going. The Girls is a fictional take on the Charles Manson cult and murders of the 1960’s.

What’s next: I’ve just finished reading Alice Hoffman’s newest novel, Faithful, a tragic coming-of-age story about a young woman who lost her best friend as a teen and is trying to learn how to move on with her life. I found it very powerful and oddly relatable–also packed full of dogs–and I can’t want to share my thoughts on this one with you tomorrow.


The Literary Elephant

Conquering the world of literature, one book at a time