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BOOK REVIEW – Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

BOOK REVIEW – Still Life with Tornado by A.S. KingStill Life with Tornado by A.S King
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Synopsis:

“I am sixteen years old. I am a human being.”

Actually Sarah is several human beings. At once. And only one of them is sixteen. Her parents insist she’s a gifted artist with a bright future, but now she can’t draw a thing, not even her own hand. Meanwhile, there’s a ten-year-old Sarah with a filthy mouth, a bad sunburn, and a clear memory of the family vacation in Mexico that ruined everything. She’s a ray of sunshine compared to twenty-three-year-old Sarah, who has snazzy highlights and a bad attitude. And then there’s forty-year-old Sarah (makes good queso dip, doesn’t wear a bra, really wants sixteen-year-old Sarah to tell the truth about her art teacher). They’re all wandering Philadelphia—along with a homeless artist allegedly named Earl—and they’re all worried about Sarah’s future.

But Sarah’s future isn’t the problem. The present is where she might be having an existential crisis. Or maybe all those other Sarahs are trying to wake her up before she’s lost forever in the tornado of violence and denial that is her parents’ marriage.

“I am a human being. I am sixteen years old. That should be enough.”

►Nothing’s really original so let’s not start, alright?

“In eight days of riding around, that’s what I’ve discovered. It’s raining bullshit. Probably all the time.”

I’m gonna be unoriginal and repeat what my fri en ds already said : don’t be fooled and think that it’s about an angsty teenage girl. It’s really not. Or maybe it is, partially, but A.S. King challenges the way we see angsty teenage girls. After all, aren’t we all a little unfair when judging them? What’s our goal when we deny their right to be upset about things?

“But now it’s been so long that if I bring it up, I’ll look like a girl who can’t let go of things. Teenage girls always have to let go of things. If we bring up anything, people say we’re bitches who can’t just drop it.”

Think about this for one second.

Go on.

Now : what does that say about us as a society? Because I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure that it stops at some point in our life. I can’t even express how
furious
that makes me feel.

people say we’re bitches

who can’t just drop it

This sentence, here? It brings our world into a cruel and unforgiving light, making me want to throw up a little. We’re so quick to judge people and assume that their problems aren’t that bad. We’re so quick to dismiss their struggles and tell them they’re overreacting. Especially when they’re women.

But what’s less original than identifying with the main character? Granted, it’s not something that makes me feel comfortable.

Sarah, though. Why, thank you, that hit me pretty hard.
I’m perfectionist.
In my bubble.
I forget stuff.
Personal stuff.
I’m not talking about, oh, crap, that letter! stuff.
I’m more talking about, wow, how could I even forget THIS happened?? stuff.
I have a very good memory, thank you very much.
It’s just – selective, unreliable, when I’m concerned : nearly perfect for the most random things, including school stuff, but comes a big emotion and pfiouuuu here it goes.

In limbo.

It does not mean that I will never remember again, oh, no! It would be one million times easier. My limbo is usually the most active around, I don’t know, midnight? When I can’t do anything about it? When my mind is going round and round in circles? And then I’ll forget.

Again.

If Sarah moved me, Helen destroyed me. The family’s relationships were so complex and heartbreaking. Again, A.S. King brought such realistic characters to life, how could they not touch me in my very core?

Next would be this : it looks the same as so many books but really it’s different. Trust me. It may be the touch of magical realism she always incorporates in her stories. It may be her writing, beautiful but so very honest. Or she may be that good, but even if the issues she deals with never strike as being original, if I may say, her books are impossible to compare to anything I read before.

Finally, what’s less original than complaining about issues let open in the end? So let’s do this.

Except… Except I won’t, because when your stories ring so true, there’s no such thing as an unrealistic open ending. It’s only life. Period.

► I would say that I was pleasantly surprised, except it would be a lie : A.S. King is so constantly good at dealing with somewhat common issues. Her stories are just my kind of weird and manage to hit me all the same. Of course I recommend.

BOOK REVIEW – Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

BOOK REVIEW – Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. KingPlease Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S King
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Synopsis:

Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?

Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.

When he was a child in his foster home, my father wasn’t allowed to eat butter. Every day he would see the family children eat it at breakfast, but never once did he break the rule. People in nowhere town, nowhere country France never stopped reminding him that he didn’t belong : part Algerian, part Parisian (like a different nationality for them really), he was the kid parents warned their children against, because god forbid any kind of open-mindedness. In the sixties, difference was not a good way to go. When my mother told me this, I cried. I cried because I had no idea. I knew that my father’s childhood wasn’t all sunshines and rainbows but he never liked to talk about it, and I didn’t press him. Truth is, I always thought that I’d had the time to sit down and really talk someday. Later.

I was wrong, because now it’s too late, and that feeling? All frustration and guilt and anger and love. Reading Please Ignore Vera Dietz felt like that, and this story reached to old and hidden parts of me I didn’t even remembered.

This is my second book from A.S. King, and by far the strongest. First she managed to perfectly capture the essence of grief : indeed it’s rarely devoid of anger – blind, unfair anger we almost never see pictured in books – and that explains partly why I could connect so strongly. People don’t warn you how mad you are when someone you love die. Sadness you expect, but anger? No, and it’s a shame really, because you can’t think clear and guilt is never far. You think you shouldn’t be angry. You think there’s a problem with you, somehow. Don’t.

This is realistic fiction at its finest, that is to say, raw and painful and crazy and beautiful. See, I’m not stranger to grief, and yet, (or because of it) books that deal with grief often piss me off so much that I’ve been delaying reading Vera’s story for more than a year now. I should have trusted my friends, because this story is nothing like the others I read before. What I have a hard time to stand in that kind of books is the “purposeful way” the death of a loved one is often used. It’s as if they would make us believe that we only lose people we love to find our destiny or some shit. Fuck that. Sorry guys, I’m a down-to-earth bitch (sorry mum, I tried!). A.S. King adds so many anecdotes that made me pause and think, “oh, yes, that“. The way you can’t help but imagine how it goes, under the earth, even if you know you shouldn’t. The way you find yourself speaking alone or consider completely impossible things. Your mind is reeling, but truth is, sometimes there’s no answers. Sometimes you have to go on to find them, and here lies the beauty of Vera’s story.

The story is organized with chapters alternating between Vera’s life in present time – after Charlie, her best friend, died – and flashbacks where we come to see how their relationship evolved during their childhood and their adolescence. All the events intricate perfectly and I found the way the story was written really wonderful because everything made sense. We think we know where the story is going, but as in real life, the journey is more important than anything here. And little by little, we realize that we didn’t really know what to expect in fact – This story surprised me.

If you’re not new to A.S. King, you know that she is more likely to insert a paranormal side in her stories. If the dreams bothered me a little in Everybody Sees the Ants, I have to say that it worked perfectly here. But then, this is Charlie, and I may be partial. I don’t care.

Both main characters are unlikeable and yet so endearing. I loved them fiercely. First of all, Charlie. Aw, Charlie, what a fucked-up you were. What a bunch of self-loathing, devil may care charm, unforgettable male-lead you are. I’m warning you here : you won’t agree with everything he did or said, but you won’t be able to stop yourself from loving him. I couldn’t. You won’t be able to stop yourself from hating him, either. He’s messed-up, an asshole, and his actions made me want to slap him – really – sometimes. But the important is, his flaws aren’t romanticized. We’re never served some crappy romance crap where unforgivable behavior is condoned. It isn’t.

As for Vera, the better way to express my feelings is to say that I could understand her : she is flawed, broken, but strong and willing to do anything she can to go on and to refuse hypocrisy. Yet she is judgmental (she kinda slut-shames at some point, yes). She is delusional. I won’t deny any of that, but she’s more. As I already said countless times, I don’t care about flaws if the characters are multi-layered. In the end, I really, really liked her because she was real and incredibly brave yet sometimes so scared. This is reality, people. We aren’t adjectives but complex human beings. She made mistakes, didn’t act when she had to to protect the ones she loves, but she is aware of that. Every fucking second of her life.

These characters never failed to make me feel deeply, and I am amazed of the depth and complexity of the relationships pictured. Vera and Charlie, Vera and her dad, Charlie and his parents – nothing’s useless, everything’s three dimensional and kinda messed-up. I loved it.

How can we escape our “destiny”? Can we, really? What of self-fulfilling prophecies? See, when I was in College I worked a lot about that kind of things – because our self-confidence is also linked to our teachers’ remarks, for better or for worse – and this is something I really care about. That’s why I found really interesting that A.S. King chose to deal with it, and in my opinion she did a great job showing that everything is always more complicated than we think : what part of our unconscious fights against the path we don’t want to follow? What part of the collective unconscious convinces us that we are going to repeat our parents’, our background’s mistakes whatever efforts we make?

How far goes the influence of others? Should we ignore them?

So many characters in this book struggle against what they think are their destiny : Vera, her father, Charlie. I couldn’t help but care for them, so, so much. My only complaint would be that I would have loved for the story to contain other strong female characters. I missed them.

Alright now, forget everything I wrote. Just FORGET IT. The truth, the real truth? I cried like a fucking baby. More and more along the way, and it wasn’t because some smart-ass decided that cancer kids were hot or some shit. It wasn’t even because Charlie dies, because really, THAT’S IN THE BLURB, ANNA. No. I cried out of rage, out of stupid decisions and SO MUCH WASTE. I cried because I can’t even count how many people Charlie reminded me. I cried because FOR FUCK SAKE, CHARLIE. I cried for Vera’s dad. I cried for all these kids who have no idea what they can do with their lives – and I don’t fucking care how lame that sounds.

I laughed, too. A lot. I’m sure it counts somewhere?

To sum-up, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an astounding book that kept me captive – for real, I had to stop yesterday because it was 3am and ANNA YOU HAVE SCHOOL TOMORROW! I thought about it all day long and jumped on the very first occasion to resume it. Now, rare are the books that have such a great power on me. I wasn’t completely satisfied in the end, but who cares? I wanted more, but who cares? Some revelations let me down, but who cares?

I’m still immensely impressed. *bows*

BOOK REVIEW – Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S King

BOOK REVIEW – Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S KingEverybody Sees the Ants by A.S King
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Synopsis:

Lucky Linderman didn't ask for his life. He didn't ask his grandfather not to come home from the Vietnam War. He didn't ask for a father who never got over it. He didn't ask for a mother who keeps pretending their dysfunctional family is fine. And he didn't ask to be the target of Nader McMillan's relentless bullying, which has finally gone too far.

But Lucky has a secret--one that helps him wade through the daily mundane torture of his life. In his dreams, Lucky escapes to the war-ridden jungles of Laos--the prison his grandfather couldn't escape--where Lucky can be a real man, an adventurer, and a hero. It's dangerous and wild, and it's a place where his life just might be worth living. But how long can Lucky keep hiding in his dreams before reality forces its way inside?

 

Let’s clear the air right away : Each and every one of the characters is complex and believable, from the teenagers to the adults in their lives. As it is, they’re flawed. They’re realistic. Once again I have to say that in my book that’s the most important in a contemporary. I don’t care about perfect people, otherwise I would read old fairytales, you know, those where the girl is waiting for her perfect guy to step in to save the day. *pukes*

A.S King created such a believable and relatable voice for Lucky – I mean relatable in the “I talk 2659 words in a minute way” because strangely, while reading the book I couldn’t help but feel like Lucky spoke in a really fast fashion. Am I weird? Tell me? Anyway – I talk like that. Well, I learnt to talk slower because, DUH, it’s better for a teacher when your pupils actually UNDERSTAND what you say but in my personal life? Talk with my boyfriend, he’ll tell you. I’m exhausting. But move on.

“Apparently, Evelyn Schwartz went blabbing to the guidance counselor about my questionnaire. She said it was “morbid” and “creepy”. (Evelyn Schwartz has a T-shirt that says HE DIED FOR ME with a picture of a dead guy nailed to a cross on it. Oh, the irony.)”

Moreover, I’m a sucker for this kind of irreverent humor, and from the moment Lucky joked about the guy who died for this annoying girl, I knew that he and I would be BBF forever. And guess what! I was right! Happy dance right now because to be right is such an awesome feeling (sorry about that). Don’t get fooled by his sarcastic humor though, because Lucky’s inner thoughts are sometimes full of self-deprecation – don’t say you don’t know what I mean. But I’ll come back to that later.

This book made me furious. So angry at all these cowards, because you know what? That’s sadly believable.

“Because it’s not about kicking his ass. It’s about getting away from him. Getting away from all assholes. I don’t want to become one – I just want to escape them.”

Indeed this book deals with bullying , and in my opinion A.S King handled this tough issue with a lot of honestly and talent. Indeed contrary to other books I could read, every struggle, every fear, every despair Lucky feels strikes an honest and familiar chord, making him so relatable to me even though I’ve never been bullied. Yeah, I’ve never been bullied, maybe (I hope) you’ve never been either, but then, who can say without a doubt that he never felt awkward or worthless or lonely someday? Who? Let’s be frank : nobody. Everybody sees the ants, guys. Everybody knows these moments where it seems that nobody can understand who they are and what they need.

Moreover, to me the way the adults were portrayed was pretty realistic, as it showed the different reactions children meet when facing bullying. As a teacher, I often have to deal with children’s fights or altercations and the two most frequent reactions from adults are 1)You have to ignore them and 2)Why didn’t you fight back?. The truth is, it doesn’t work most of the time. It doesn’t work, and children know it – they need us to step in and help them, to frame the discussion between them. Young bullies need someone to tell them that IT’S NOT RIGHT, and bullied need to be heard and feel understood. In my opinion to let 7-10 years old children deal with this kind of things alone is a fucking coward move, but sadly, it is how most of adults react. This or as Aunt Jodie, calling specialists without even LISTENING for starters. Oh, and do you know what maddens me the most? People who tell me that it’s “children worthless stuff”. Yeah, right. Because it’s so funny to be pushed or belittled. I mean, come on. Stop being assholes. Yes I believe that children need to talk together to solve their problems but they do need us to provide them a safe bubble to manage that. I don’t care who their parents are, at school they’re all equals and each and every one of them must follow the rules. That’s all. For sure I’m not saying that I have all the answers, because I don’t, and maybe there aren’t right answers. But I try. It’s frightening, but I try, and if I’m sure that I fuck up badly sometimes, well, I do my best anyway, and I can only hope that it’s something.

So, yeah. Lucky’s story moved me. However, I had a hard time connecting with the characters in the dream part. Indeed whilst it didn’t put me off completely, I have to admit that it confused me and decreased my interest. I’m not usually thrown off guard by weird stuff, but what can I say? It didn’t work for me, as I couldn’t help but disconnect from the story each time we were brought into one of his dreams. More generally, I got the impression that the plot dragged at some parts (in the middle in particular) and if I wasn’t bored, I wasn’t captivated either unfortunately.

Anyway, despite my inability to thoroughly love this book, some parts punched me in the guts and I feel the need to let my rating at 3.5 because I frankly believe that this kind of realistic stories is needed. Teenagers need to read about bullying. Adults need to acknowledge it. I know, I know, most of adults would say that they do acknowledge it but trust me, in real life? They don’t always do it. I don’t want to live in a world where we have to slap someone in order for him to let us alone. I don’t care of what everybody says. There are other ways to deal with it, and I see every day that it works. Yes, that’s true, it takes time and energy, but for real? It’s so worth it.

“The world is full of assholes. What are you doing to make sure you’re not one of them?”

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