Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Infinite Sea… of Anger and Frustration

chess pieces

“He promised he would empty me. He would empty me and fill me with hate. But he broke that promise. He didn’t fill me with hate. He filled me with hope.”

… And if you’ve had a chance to read The 5th Wave, hope is death — but hope is all humanity has when it’s lost everything else that matters. The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey picks up right where The 5th Wave leaves off. Everyone is injured, sleep-deprived, on edge, and hopeful, while shacked up in a crumbling hotel being overrun with rats. Once again we are able to experience the events as they unfold through the eyes of different characters, and even learn the backstory of Ringer and Poundcake. Cassie is hoping against all odds that Evan is alive and able to meet them at their rendezvous, Ben hopes Ringer is able to explore some caves that could be their winter shelter since they can’t stay in the rat-infested hotel for much longer, everyone else hopes Ben will survive his injuries and infected bullet wound. There’s plenty of hope and wishful thinking to go around. “No hope without faith, no faith without hope, no love without trust, no trust without love. Remove one and the entire human house of cards collapses.” So which one will be taken away? How to the Others plan to dismantle human existence and wipe it from the face of the planet? And most importantly, why are they being so methodical and cruel about it?

Anger. Frustration. Anxiety. Manipulation. I felt all these things as I kept on reading hoping to find some answers, hoping certain troublesome events would be resolved, hoping I would find out more about these sadistic aliens, and hoping things would be okay in the end, hoping there was indeed something to hope for. It’s the end of humanity as we know it, and I wanted things to be okay. I know…

Through Ringer’s experience we are able to learn more about the Others, their evil master plan, and their reasoning behind the attack on humanity — it’s all a rather confusing riddle, which only adds to the questions and frustration. Rick Yancey’s style is also deeply brooding and existential — but how else would we react when faced with the finality of our lives and extinction of our entire race? Each person is constantly faced with a choice of life or death — a choice that decides not only what happens next, but how their character and identity and collective consciousness of all of humanity will be defined. To kill? To die? To leave behind? To risk your life? To give up? To keep going? To break down and cry? To be strong and hold on? To trust? To suspect? To live? To love? To hope?

I read most of this book in one very long sitting because I needed answers. But what kept me reading was the feeling of experiencing it all first hand — all of my emotions matched those of Cassie and Ringer and Ben. Yancey chooses carefully how he presents information to the reader… and at times I felt I was being toyed with — Is he being cryptic on purpose? Is he messing with my head? Is he trying to throw me off? How could this be? Should I have seen this coming? … What I definitely saw coming was that I wouldn’t get all of my answers by the end of this book. I have a million more questions…

“You never know when the truth will come home. You can’t choose the time. The time chooses you.”

I cannot wait for the third installment of this trilogy.

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The 5th Wave — Not Your Average Little Green Men

evan walker

It’s such a great experience to discover you enjoy something you normally wouldn’t have considered. For example, I wouldn’t normally pick up a book about an alien invasion… and yet, I couldn’t put Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave down!

The varying points of view add a certain dimension to the story-telling as we are introduced to, first and foremost, “Cassie for Cassiopeia” and her family. She gives us the crash tour through the waves: “1st wave, lights out”– an EMP makes all electricity and technology useless… “2nd wave, surf’s up” — a massive tsunami wipes out all coastal cities… “3rd wave, pestilence” — the “blood plague” carried by birds wipes out anyone not immune… “4th wave, Silencers” — alien-infested marksmen shoot off the living… and the “5th wave”… well, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? As the waves go on, the human count dwindles. Through each section we see the different points of views — How are each of our characters affected by this apocalyptic event? How does each one deal with loss? How can anyone go on living? What truly matters?

The question at the heart of it all, “How do you rid the Earth of humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.”

While Cassie grapples with the promise she makes to her little brother Sammy, Ben struggles with the regret of running away, and Evan battles with… being good at what he does — (his job is not that pleasant) — the events for total human extinction are moving fast. With the world in complete and utter chaos, paranoia takes over: there is no trust. Trust = death. “First rule: Trust no one. The only way to stay alive as long as possible is to stay alone as long as possible.” Secondly, give up hope — because the end is inevitably coming, and it’s not a matter of “if” but “when.” Thus, hope = death; “That will kill you. It kills you before die. Long before you die.” As the awful and carefully calculated events unfold, pessimism and realism blur their undefinable borders… but our characters keep on going. They find strength within their humanity to go on, to defy the ever-so-slim odds, and finally converge at the point of complete chaos.

And so, although the driving forces behind this sci-fi story are the cataclysmic events, the fast action, and the nail-biting suspense — it’s the meaningful bonds between characters that keep you reading. Whether it’s the way Sammy clings to Ben (and vice versa), or the way Evan clings to Cassie (and vice versa) — it’s the human element that matters most when life on the planet barely matters at all. It may be that “the harder survival becomes, the more you want to pull together. And the more you want to pull together, the harder survival becomes.” But the truth is… that this what we humans do: in times of crisis, we pull together.

Of course, there’s also that Cassie is a hilarious narrator… and then there’s also Evan Walker. Just… Evan Walker.

I will be reading The Infinite Sea now…

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The Rise of a Villain — Sorting My Emotions About Marie Lu’s The Young Elites

young elites 2

The Young Elites by Marie Lu is a wonderfully imaginative novel with so many layers of story-telling intertwined. Lu creates a world with three moons, and tells us the story of Adelina Amouteru, who lives on an island where the Inquisition chases after the malfettos — children scourged by a horrible blood fever that leaves them marked and with special abilities. She creates poetry, history, literary quotes, ancient gods, and the mythology that lies behind this elaborate tale. But most importantly, she creates complex characters and action-packed scenes that drive the story forward, pulling you in, forcing you to turn the pages as quickly as possible just see what happens next.

Adelina is a tortured soul — and I wanted to root for her every step of the way. But the poor girl is broken, beaten, and deeply disturbed. She has the makings of a very powerful villain… I just wanted to see her succeed so badly. My denial almost made me miss all the signs. She loses her mother to the blood fever, she is unloved and mistreated by her awful father, she’s sold off as a mistress, watches her father being trampled to death by a horse, is imprisoned and sentenced to death by burning at the stake… and this is all within the first few pages of the book! She is raised to feel… insufficient — her beauty is marred by her grey hair and missing eye; she is temperamental, yet eager to please; she is constantly compared (by herself and others) to her beautiful and affable little sister, Violetta. She’s bound to snap. “Soon you’re going to see that things don’t end well for everyone. Some of us are broken and there’s nothing you can do to fix it.”

Yet it is her affinity toward dark emotions that strengthen her. She basks in fear and anger and danger. She is one twisted sixteen-year-old, for sure. But she also wants to belong, she wants to be loved, she wants to be accepted by friends — she simply wants people who will be kind to her without expecting something in return. There is so much loss for Adelina, so much fear of trusting others — so much desire to hurt others as she’s been hurt in return.

“I am Adelina Amouteru… I belong to no one. On this night, I swear to you that I will rise above everything you’ve ever taught me. I will become a force that this world has never known. I will come into such power that none will dare hurt me again.”

Clearly, she means business. As we read her story, empathize with her insecurities, cower along with her in deep dark corners, root for her when things finally start to go right… only to watch them unravel bit by bit… we understand, why to become an unstoppable force, Adelina must suffer, and pull from the darkness of her life the ability to inflict pain upon others.

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“You disappoint me,” she whispered.

the stars

I loved reading this book. I cannot praise Kate DiCamillo’s talent enough for weaving such details into a story and creating such beautiful characters. Edward Tulane starts out as the perfect little self-centered porcelain bunny rabbit. At the beginning his word is just so… exact. But Pellegrina sees that he disappoints — a little girl’s bunny rabbit should love that little girl just as much as she loves him. But Edward doesn’t love anyone… he cares only about himself. So he must go out into the world… his heart must be broken… he must suffer and constantly leave without saying goodbye… only then, does he learn to love.

Those stars which he finds so comforting at the beginning of the story, don’t care the slightest bit about him when he’s out alone in a field of crows! “I have been loved,” poor little Edward cries pathetically into the night… “So?” is the stars’ reply. It’s quite befitting that the book opens with a quote from “The Testing Tree,” by Stanley Kunitz: “The heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking. / It is necessary to go / through dark and deeper dark / and not to turn.” Edward’s heart learns to break again and again — he loses Abilene when he falls overboard, he loses Nellie when he is thrown into the garbage by her daughter, he loses Bull and Lucy when they are thrown off the train, he loses Sara Ruth when she dies, and he loses Bryce who loves him so much he cannot leave him a broken heap of porcelain…

Oh, Edward’s heart does indeed break and break — and as a reader, my heart broke with him. But it’s only through breaking that Edward learns to live and to love and to appreciate those around him. Do we truly only learn through loss? Is it only suffering that shapes the best of us? Is it the stumbles and mistakes and heartbreaks that makes us lovably imperfect?

In any case, I am happy this little bunny, scrapes and all, found his way home again.

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Hope: The Elephant in the Room?

magician's elephant

“But what if?

Why not?

Could it be?”

Kate DiCamillo’s novel about The Magician’s Elephant is so beautifully written… the only way this story would not pull at your heartstrings is if you genuinely do not have any. Each character has their own story, each one searches for their own happiness, and each one is in desperate need of hope.

At first, the story seemed like a mystery to me — with Peter asking the fortune teller about his sister… does she live? And the fortuneteller’s cryptic answer, “You must follow the elephant… she will lead you there.” But as the characters’ stories unfold, and their deepest desires are exposed to the reader, it’s not so much a mystery as a quest to believe the impossible can come true even in the most hopeless of circumstances.

To the town of Baltese, this elephant that drops out of thin air is a symbol of the impossible coming true. Yet, to the magician, it is but an act of desperation: “Yes, the magician had intended to conjure lilies. But standing on the stage of the Bliffendorf Opera House, before an audience that was indifferent to whatever small diversion he might perform and was waiting only for him to exit and for the real magic to begin, the magician was struck suddenly, and quite forcibly, with the notion that he had wasted his life.” Desperate times may call for desperate measures, after all. Don’t we all wish we could conjure up an elephant when we’re in need of a little appreciation? The magician’s predicament feels quite personal to me — there is such a disconnect between what he intends, and what he actually accomplishes. Though he intends to conjure lilies, his inability to follow through with his intensions haunts him for most of the story… until he can set it right again. But for those of us without magic, how do we set things right again?

The other characters also have conflicting views of this magical elephant: to Peter, “an elephant was a ridiculous answer to any question — but a particularly ridiculous answer to a question posed by the human heart.” To the countess Quintet, the elephant is a status symbol and owning the most coveted animal in town, a reason to have extravagant parties. To Leo Matienne, the elephant is a good omen, but his wife Gloria cannot be so optimistic: “My heart has been broken too many times, and it cannot bear to hear your foolish questions.” Yet, there they were… “what if? … why not? … could it be?” The incessant questions of a hopeful heart — who can silence them? Isn’t that why we want to believe in hope? Isn’t it why we want to believe in magic?

“‘But that is impossible,’ said Peter.

‘Magic is always impossible,’ said the magician. ‘It begins with the impossible and ends with the impossible and is impossible in between. That is why it is magic.'”

Simple enough, right?

Meanwhile, the elephant herself… she suffers so. “It was hard for her to breathe; the world seemed too small. […] Deep within herself, the elephant said this name, her name, over and over again. She was working to remind herself of who she was. She was working to remember that, somewhere, in another place entirely, she was known and loved.” She is out of place. She is unhappy. She is desperate to make her reality a different one. But she is the elephant in the room — locked away so that the town can line up to see the magician’s greatest accomplishment — only Peter truly sees her. Just as he knows how important family is to him, he can see deep within her soul that she needs to go back to her family as well.

In the end, it’s not so much that everyone is looking for hope… but that everyone is hoping for love. The magician needs admiration, Leo Matienne and Gloria need a child, Peter needs his sister, the elephant needs to go home… the town needs a reminder: “It is a bad thing to have love and nowhere to put it.”

And that’s the magic… how do we channel our love, our passion, and our happiness into a worthwhile endeavor? I’m not sure… it seems like it’s impossible all around and in between.

… But what if?

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The Existential Rats of NIMH

mazes and roses

“The cage was my home for a long time. It was not uncomfortable… Yet just the fact it was a cage made it horrible… [but] by teaching us how to read, they had taught us how to get away.”

It is impossible not to instantly fall in love with a rat that spends his life musing so deeply about the most significant matters of existence. Although the tale of these field rodents revolves around Mrs. Frisby and her children, it is clearly Nicodemus who steals the spotlight.

While being held captive at The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Nicodemus and his friends struggle with a gamut of emotions: fear for their lives, uncertainty over their fate from day to day, hope for their freedom… it is, of course, hope that keeps them going through the electrified maze, despite the depressing realization that only a metal gate awaits at its end. It is the illusion that at some point freedom can be attained that pushes them to explore their surroundings, keep track of the scientists’ routines, and finally leads them out into the world. However, it is learning to read that truly changes these rats’ destiny. Reading… “using symbols to suggest a picture or an idea. From that time on it gradually became clear to me what these lessons were for, and once I understood the idea, I was eager to learn more.” It is reading that provides both the way out and the way to a more complicated existence.

“The real point is this: We don’t know where to go because we don’t know what we are… Where does a group of civilized rats fit in?” Being different, being self-aware, and being eager to learn made these rats a new breed… it made them want more out of life, and it made Nicodemus in particular wonder and worry “about the fact that whatever we ate, whatever we needed, must always be stolen. Rats had always lived that way. And yet — why?” There is that tiny yet powerful question… WHY? Why steal what isn’t theirs to take? Why live as thieves when they are such intelligent creatures? Why scrounge off society when they could be useful and self-sustaining instead?

To feed their curiosity and thirst for knowledge, the rats read within the study of a temporarily vacant home. Nicodemus learns about what he calls “the People Race” — since “the Rat Race” has nothing to do with rats at all– ” a race where, no matter how fast you run, you don’t get anywhere.” The rats were stuck in a rut — life had become too easy: they could steal food, electricity, tools, water, even air! A lack of work made the rats far too complacent in their lethargic existence. “We did not have enough work to do because a thief’s life is always based on somebody else’s work.” This is what bothered Nicodemus: the rats enjoyed the fruits of someone else’ labor while doing nothing for themselves. Sadly, thievery and laziness are not the grounds upon which great civilizations are built. A hard choice that to be made, and thus, The Plan came into fruition: to live without stealing. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with Nicodemus’ plan for greatness. Many where perfectly happy and content with living like “fleas on a dog’s back” and doing nothing in exchange for their existence. For instance, Jenner complains about Nicodemus’ idea that “we’ve got to start from nothing and work hard and build a rat civilization.” That was far too much effort to achieve very much the same level of comfortable living — Jenner only cared about the end, but Nicodemus truly valued the means.

Clearly, Robert C. O’Brian drew many parallels between human beings and these fascinating rats. There are those who are aware of their responsibility to society and take pride in their hard work, while there are others perfectly satisfied with contributing nothing and taking as much as possible. Yet he is not pontifical about it — Nicodemus understands that it isn’t laziness that prevents Jenner from buying into his plan, it is his cynicism. Although Jenner and his group of dissenters die electrocuted while trying to steal some tools, it isn’t a moralizing death — after all, it seems Justin dies too while trying to save his friend. Nonetheless, there is a lesson to be learned and questions to be asked: what are we willing to die for? What do we contribute to the world? What do we value? … and lastly, WHY?

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Before We Were Free: a testimony

butterflies and cage“It is the responsibility of those who survive the struggle for freedom to give testimony. To tell the story in order to keep alive the memory of those who died.” — Julia Alvarez Julia Alvarez’s writing resonates with those of us who have been through the difficulties of assimilating to American culture, and that awkward in-between experience of fitting in neither here nor there. But in Before We Were Free, she goes a step further to bring to life a different struggle — the one that takes place before assimilation is even an issue… the struggle that causes a family to flee their native land in the first place. She depicts the coming of age of Anita Torres, who must grow up in the midst of a dictatorship, while experiencing the gradual disappearance of her surrounding extended family. Through Anita’s observations and diary entries we learn about cousins who from one second to the next have a plane to catch, an uncle who has been neither seen or heard from for a while, hushed conversations among the adults, a family compound that progressively becomes deserted, a housekeeper’s ominous prophesy that “not everyone can have wings,” as well as Anita’s slow realization that her beautiful country is not as full of the liberties and opportunities she once imagined she possessed.

Although Anita is at first your typical spoiled little girl of privilege, she becomes more complex at the story develops. She uses her diary as a safe haven for her thoughts and her story — very reminiscent of Anne Frank — “It’s like my whole world is coming undone, but when I write my pencil is a needle and thread, and I’m stitching the scraps back together.” The SIM raids, the missing relatives, and Chucha’s haunting riddles, drive Anita into a silent protest: she stops speaking altogether. Thus, her only salvation is to write… the only way to fight oppression and fear is to write in that diary. And though at first she must erase every page as soon as she writes down the events of her day for fear of being discovered, soon Anita realizes that words are power, that her story is important, and that if you allow someone to take away your words and your story, only then are you truly left defenseless. “For days I wasn’t able to write a single word… but then I started thinking, if I stop now, they’ve really won. They’ve taken away everything, even the story of what is happening to us.” Freedom of expression, however small, is an immensely powerful weapon against cruelty and brutality.

Alvarez also raises questions about justice — ajusticiamiento. “It’s so unfair to have to live in a country where you have to do stuff you feel bad about in order to save your life.” Under most circumstances one would call a murder plot an assassination; yet in this case it is not so. It is considered a “bringing to justice” and it makes you wonder about your own ideas of justice, and fairness, and the desperate acts of a desperate people. Most of us don’t spend too much time questioning the freedoms we have — more often than not, we take them for granted. But Anita’s poignant words remind us that it has not always been so everywhere… they remind us that it isn’t so today…

“I wonder what it would be like to be free? … free inside, like an uncaged bird. Then nothing, not even a dictatorship, can take away your liberty.”

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A Peculiar Read: Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Ms PeregrineThis book had me at hello — which is somewhat strange, since I’ve been staring at this title for a while now (it has been on the New York Times Best Sellers list for over 52 weeks)… the cover looked somewhat creepy and I wasn’t sure it’d be my cup of tea. But then I read the first line. Jacob seemed like an interesting character I would enjoy getting to know — I wanted to go along on this journey of self-discovery with him, and most importantly, I wanted his grandfather to not be crazy. With tales of girls who could float through the air or make fire appear from their palms, invisible boys, and worst of all, monsters… who wouldn’t doubt the poor old man’s sanity. A man whose magical tales of childhood had sparked a boy’s imagination and thirstfor adventure, suddenly just seemed frail and delusional — still, Jacob’s declaration,”We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing them becomes too high,” feels like it goes deeper than just his grandfather’s stories… making him out to be a grandiose hero was a fairytale — the price (looking after him, defending him from his parents) became too high. Fortunately, Jacob was able to find his way to this strange loop of September 3rd… he met an extraordinary, if peculiar, group of people… he made a discovery after all. Thus, in the end, Jacob turns out to be more than a just teenage boy learning about his grandfather’s past, his realizations go beyond the peculiar children in Ms. Peregrine’s care, his observations are far greater than slightly creepy photographs in a box… “I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was. Yet […] I realized that leaving wouldn’t be like Ihad imagined, like casting off a weight. Their memory was something tangible and heavy, and I would carry it with me.” I must admit… I want to know what happens with this band of odd children and a bird. I think I’ll be reading Hollow City to see how Jake and his friends fare on their adventure.

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