Friday, May 25, 2012

Book review: Unwind

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Connor, Risa, and Lev are running for their lives.

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child "unwound," whereby all of the child's organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn't technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.

I really, really liked this book.

It made me think a lot about real things -- about judging other people and whether you can deserve or not deserve the life you have. 

"Unwind" switches perspectives. This can be an awful tactic because you may not get to know anyone well if you're constantly jumping from one POV to another, but Unwind uses it well. 

When I told people (my mom, my doctor, friends...) what "Unwind" is about, they'd ask "but who would ever unwind their kids?"

The switching perspectives allow us to see who exactly would unwind their kid. See, first of all, it comes with no stigma. So in our mindset, you think "who would throw their kid away like that?" But in the mindset of many of the people in "Unwind," it's just as everyday as adoption. recycling. garage sales. It's something that some people do. And often, it's seen as a contribution to society.

The three main characters are Conner, Risa and Lev.

Conner comes from a normal family, but he's a hot head. He got into a lot of fights at school and didn't get great grades and his parents decide to unwind him.

Risa comes from a state home that just doesn't have the budget to keep all the kids until they'e 18.

And Lev--Lev was the most interesting to me. He's a tithe, in the religious sense of the word. His parents had ten kids, and so he's the ten percent they have to give up.

(All this is in the first 30 or so pages, so I'm not spoiling anything.)

I think I liked this book because it made you think about real things without shoving them down your throat. I know there are religious and political subtexts about abortion and human rights, but I can't say with any certainty which way the author leans.

"Unwind" is fast-paced and full of surprises. There are so many nuances about the unwinding process and many we don't learn until the end of the book. The characters were very real to me; I rooted for them and liked them. It was the kind of book that I read 90 pages without really noticing I'd read it.

Some people might feel like it pushes the issues too much. You do have to go in with an open mind. But I highly recommend "Unwind." 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book review: Delirium

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -- the deliria -- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

I really, really liked this this book. I'm listening to the next book, Pandemonium, right now! I'm doing another list of thoughts because I'm not sure I can articulate likes and dislikes. Ready, set, GO!

1. I can't decide how I feel about Lena, the protagonist. She's very slow to move. I think I've become used to BAMF main characters in dystopian books who see that something is wrong and are like WE MUST CHANGE THIS.

But Lena isn't like that. Because of things that happened in her family and the inescapable influence of the society in which she's raised, she has been completely brainwashed. She drank the kool-aid. And even when she falls in love, even when she begins to dread the date of the procedure that will make her incapable of love instead of looking forward to it, she doesn't do anything but whine about how close it is. It pissed me off that she was so passive...

but it was maybe more realistic to have the main character be scared than the protagonists who are ready and eager to change things. It took time for her to see the light and change her mind. I was just impatient and ready for action way before it happened.

2. I mentioned this when I started reading it but for any audiobook friends out there, this one is read by Sarah Drew, an actress from Grey's Anatomy. She is stellar. She sounds young enough to be Lena and really emotes well.

3. I've heard other people say they thought it started slow, but I was really hooked all the way through from the beginning. And there are more and more surprises throughout the book.

That's all I've got for now. I'm starting to wonder what I usually say in these lists. Idk. I don't have a lot to say. But I highly recommend this book, especially if you like dystopians. (Anban, if you're out there, read this!)

Have any of you read it? What do you think?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Book review: Still Alice

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Genova's debut revolves around Alice Howland - Harvard professor, gifted researcher and lecturer, wife, and mother of three grown children. One day, Alice sets out for a run and soon realizes she has no idea how to find her way home. It's a route she has taken for years, but nothing looks familiar. She is utterly lost. Is her forgetfulness the result of menopausal symptoms? A ministroke? A neurological cancer? After a few doctors' appointments and medical tests, Alice has her diagnosis, and it's a shocker -- she has early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

What follows is the story of Alice's slow but inevitable loss of memory and connection with reality, told from her perspective. She gradually loses the ability to follow a conversational thread, the story line of a book, or to recall information she heard just moments before. To Genova's great credit, readers learn of the progression of Alice's disease through the reactions of others, as Alice does, so they feel what she feels -- a slowly building terror.

This book was a very personal, close-to-home read for me. I don't know anyone with Alzheimer's, but my grandmother does have dementia, which affects you in a lot of similar ways, and my mom is a social worker in the division of the elderly and disabled, which encompasses people with Alzheimer's. So I was thinking of my grandmother and mom often as I listened to this one.

My dislikes were few:
1. This one starts out really slowly. It takes a few chapters for us to get to new information--the first few chapters all deal with her noticing something is wrong and then her diagnosis. I think the beginning might be intriguing if they didn't give away that she has Alzheimer's on the back of the book.

2. In the beginning it focuses a lot on Alice's profession. This didn't really bother me, and it was important later, but it does contribute to the slow start, I think.

1. What initially intrigued me about this book is that it's told from Alice's perspective. And Genova used her perspective really well. Because of the nature of Alzheimer's, sometimes Alice didn't know how far her disease had progressed until someone told her. And because it was from her point of view, we, as readers, sometimes don't know until she's told. Other times, she'll do something and we're conscious of it and then she'll forget, but because we, as readers, don't have Alzheimer's, we remember and can see the progression even though she can't. For example, she starts repeating herself, asking the same questions over and over within just a few minutes or half an hour. Alice doesn't realize she's doing it, but we do. It's a really captivating perspective and makes you feel like you're going through everything too.

2. There's a whole lot I never knew about Alzheimer's that I learned from this book. Like that they have delusions of things that haven't actually happened or aren't real. That a lot of times they don't recognize themselves in the mirror. My mom confirmed that one--said she's heard of social workers entering a room and hearing the elderly client talking. When they ask who they're talking to, the elderly person will point to the mirror and say "her." Because they don't realize they're old; because that couldn't possibly be their reflection--that woman has wrinkles and white hair.

I had thought Alzheimer's was a familiar disease to me, but this showed me I know very little about it.

3. Like I said, there were a lot of things that reminded me of my grandma. Like my grandma once didn't recognize a pancake--had no idea what it was, poked it, and ended up asking us. So I thought it was very easy to relate to and realistic.

4. Alice thinks about suicide a lot. And while it's easy to say suicide is never the answer, Genova does a really great job of helping her audience through Alice's thought process and helping us see why she would consider that end.

All in all, I thought "Still Alice" was captivating and beautiful. Sometimes I was so into it that once I was at work I feared some of the mishaps that were happening to Alice would happen to me--that I would lose my words or end up putting my cell phone in the freezer or something. I know this one's going to stick with me a long time.

Have any of you read "Still Alice"? Or do any of you have someone close to you experiencing Alzheimer's or dimentia? I'd love to hear about your experience.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Book review: The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

A novel set mostly in Afghanistan. The introverted and insecure afghan narrator, Amir, grows up in Afghanistan in the closing years of the monarchy and the first years of the short-lived republic. His best and most faithful friend, Hassan, is the son of a servant. Amir feels he betrays Hassan by not coming to his aid when Hassan is set on by bullies and furthermore forces Hassan and his father Ali to leave his father´s service. Amir´s relatively privileged life in Kabul comes to an end when the communist regime comes to power and his extrovert father, Baba emigrates with him to the U.S. There Amir meets his future afghan wife and marries her. Amir´s father dies in the U.S. and Amir receives a letter from his father´s most trusted business partner and, for a time, Amir´s surrogate father, which makes Amir return, alone, to a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan in search of the truth about himself and his family, and finally, a sort of redemption. 

This is one of those books that makes it difficult to pin down your feelings. For one thing, the book encompasses over 30 years of the main character's life. That's a lot to cover in one book. And it's not a boring life. I'll do my best.

Instead of likes and dislikes, I have a list of thoughts on this one.

1. For at least half of the book, I found Amir (the main character) to be truly despicable. I really, really didn't like him and saw no good in him. His friend Hassan, however, is good. Good to the core. So good it hurts.

This, I think, makes Hosseini both a good and a bad author. Bear with me as I go into my I-studied-creative-writing zone. On the one hand, he made me care for nearly 400 pages (or in my case, 11 discs) about a character I didn't like. Granted, halfway through I didn't hate Amir so much. But I still thought he was a coward and didn't really like him. I liked his wife, his friends, sometimes I liked his dad. But I never really liked Amir--not until the very end of the book.

It's hard to keep people reading if they don't care about the characters. So this is a pretty great testament to his writing skill.

But on the other hand, no one is singularly good or bad. Ok, I might agree to extreme cases, like Hitler. He was probably pretty much all bad. But characters that are pure good (like Hassan) or pure evil (a character I haven't mentioned yet, Assef, fits this role) is not true to life. It's a characteristic of fairy tales to have a character that is purely good or evil. So I feel like some aspects of Hosseini's writing weren't all that great. A more skilled writer would humanize the bad guy, just a little. (I by no means mean to imply I could do better. Just an observation gleaned from studying creative writing.)

2. The culture represented in this book is fascinating. I have no idea if it is accurate or if it has changed--most of the book does take place before the Taliban took over or in America, and I know the Taliban changed a lot in Afghanistan. But it's incredible to me what heavy roles religion and social status play.

Hassan and his father Ali work for Amir and his father Baba. Baba and Ali (the fathers) grew up together and Hassan and Amir are growing up together. But Amir talks about how he cannot call Hassan his friend. He considers him his brother. But it would be shameful to call him his friend since he is a different religion (race too? not sure) and he is Amir's servant. He talks about how when his other friends are around, he doesn't include Hassan.

I know there are class differences in America and in my life. But, in my sheltered experience, most are not openly acknowledged like they are in "The Kite Runner." Religion can play a huge role, but I've never personally witnessed such persecution as Hassan faces. I am sheltered. I know it happens. But in this realm, "The Kite Runner" truly showed me aspects of life I've never seen before.

There's also a lot of beauty to the culture. It's amazing how Hosseini transports you so fully into Afghanistan and lets you feel like you're really experiencing the culture.

3. I related a lot to the little bit we learn about Amir's mother, who died right after childbirth. Amir learns from someone who knew her that she was afraid because she was so happy. She feared it meant something bad was coming--no one was allowed to be that happy for long. I've felt that way before.

There is a lot more to this book. It's heavily relationship themed. What it means to be a father, son, husband, wife, friend, brother. There's a lot of violence, and redemption is a heavy theme as well.

I liked it. I think. In the kind of way when you don't want to say you liked it because you're not supposed to like when a character dies or bad things happen to good people but it's a beautiful story. It's not happy, so it feels like you're delighting in someone's misfortune to like it.

But I'm glad I read it. I have a feeling it'll stick with me for a long time.

Have any of you read it? I'd love to hear what you thought. Please be careful of spoilers in the comments. If you have anything spoiler-y to say, email me at aestrusz[at]gmail[dot]com instead!


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