REVIEW: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

“…it is sad, of course, to forget.
But it is a lonely thing, to be forgotten.
To remember when no one else does.” 

Adeline LaRue, a young girl in 18th century France, makes a deal with the devil. Or, something like the devil. She’s given the chance to live and be free–but with all dark deals, there is a catch, and that is that she will live until she wants to give up her soul, but that no one can ever remember her, and in this way she walks through the memory of the world as invisible. She cannot say her name, she cannot write, she cannot create or break things. Until, three hundred years later, someone remembers her. 

I’m surprised at the speed with which I devoured this book. I felt like everywhere I turned I was hearing about this novel–from the internet, from friends, from the UofM Honors Reads program that’s scheduled a discussion of the book for early March. Wanting to get a head start for the Honors Reads session, I picked up the book early. I had not predicted that I would be done with the ~450 page sucker in the matter of a few days.

I didn’t want to like this book as much as I did. The books I tend to gravitate towards are typically dark and almost pretentiously intellectual–think Donna Tartt’s The Secret History or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. This bestseller, while still possessing some dark and gothic elements, in tone was relatively fluffy and light-hearted. It still managed to captivate me. 

V.E. Schwab has spun a tale that reads smoothly and effortlessly, though at times the pace is slow and repetitive–a flow fitting for the world of our spirited, immortal heroine Addie.

If you’re like me and romance in books has never really struck your fancy, you may find yourself frustrated with the love story of the novel. Beginning the book, I was intrigued to discover how Addie would choose to handle her curse, and was a little disappointed when the story shifted more than I had hoped into a somewhat cliché love triangle trope (albeit with some interesting twists). However, even I was able to set aside my cynicism and enjoy how love and connection mattered in the life of a girl cursed to never experience any.

Despite the heterosexual romance, the representation of bi, pan, and queer characters in the book was, as NPR’s Caitlyn Paxson describes, “refreshingly casual for fiction.” I also appreciated the use of art to weave together the story of Addie LaRue throughout each of the book’s sections.

If not just a fun and entertaining read that I was begrudgingly sucked into for a few days, this book did cause me to think about the idea of living forever with the curse Addie carried. How would I spend my time if I had as much of it as I wanted? In the end, I realized my answer was still relevant to the finite time we all have living now. No matter how many limited or unlimited years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds we get: it’s not as much about how much time we get, but instead how we choose to savor every bit of it.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: New Waves

Lucas, the main character in Kevin Nguyen’s novel that released early last month, “New Waves”, is a twenty-something, unambitious, mess. Working as the sole customer support representative at tech start-up Nimbus, Lucas and his closest friend Margo, an engineer at the firm, spend the majority of their time outside of working drinking at mediocre bars and complaining about work. When Margo is fired from the company for her lack of “team morale”, Lucas and her hatch a plan to get back at the company by stealing all of their username information.

But what happens when the friend you commit a federal crime against your previous employer with is hit by a car? Lucas is left to pick up the pieces, and as he takes on a job at a competing tech firm, Phantom, curiosity gets the better of him. But diving into Margo’s history and search history leaves Lucas with more questions than answers about the person he thought was his best friend. Nguyen navigates with dexterity Lucas’ grief and the fallout of loss while leading readers down a mysterious trail into Margo’s past.

Lucas is not exactly the kind of character a reader is used to rooting for. He is lazy, messy, and at times cruel. He has no real dreams he is pursuing. He only moved to New York City to escape working at his parents’ bed and breakfast back home in Oregon. His only real friend is Margo, and even the details and seriousness of their relationship is shrouded with a certain apathy. It’s unclear whether or not their friendship continues because of genuine connection, or pure convenience. After her passing, and a handful of discoveries, Lucas admits he was in love with Margo, “but what if I could love someone and not want to f*** them?”. This is where Nguyen falters.

The admittance comes a little over halfway through the novel. In some ways, it’s incredibly satisfying. From the beginning of my reading of the novel, I wondered if the matter would be addressed. While I was glad to get an answer, the minute I had it I realized I would’ve been better off without it. Lucas’ love for Margo is most interesting when it exists as a Schrodinger’s cat; it both exists and does not exist until this moment, and the novel is better off without Nguyen’s direct address of it. By doing so, Nguyen reveals the primary issue with his novel; it lacks any form of internal engine. Anything interesting in the novel conveniently happens to the characters, as opposed to any action happening based on the choices the characters make. And while it is engrossing initially to see Lucas flounder after the death of his beloved friend, it is apparent fairly early on that the character is aimlessly wandering through life, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. While Lucas does grow somewhat of a spine through the course of the book, it misses the mark for me. My desire for Lucas to grow, to change, to try is never fully met, despite what appears to be Nguyen’s careful cultivation of this feeling in readers.

“New Waves” is far from bad. Nguyen’s writing is admirable, and his form and integration of technology hit a mark that many “modern” books fail to do.  But at the end of the day, “New Waves” is a story about a whole lot of things happening to someone who doesn’t care enough to let it alter their outlook on life.

REVIEW: The Goldfinch

I fell in love with The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt this summer. I’ve said this many times after reading her first and cult favorite novel, The Secret History: that I am convinced Donna Tartt is the best novelist of our time, if not only my favorite. The intricacy of her genius is mind-blowing. The Goldfinch has every Fareah-esque theme a book could possibly have: large, sprawling, ambitious plots, a character we see grow and mature and break, glittering prose, an attention to the everyday, philosophical underpinnings, an incredible (!) best friend figure, unrequited love (not essential, but definitely a perk). I love The Goldfinch so much. I’ve reread some of the passages religiously. 

The story follows Theo, a bright and thoughtful young boy who loses his mother to an attack in an art museum in New York City. In his fervor, he takes a painting with him: Fabritius’ The Goldfinch. We follow him throughout his life, the secret possession of this painting threading its way through every milestone. The story is about a lot of things: love for objects, for art, for people; a search for meaning and value, and sometimes the crushing absence of meaning and value. It is a stirring and riveting story.

The narrative of the book is inexplicably tied with words, with prose, with life given form by language. It’s essentially part of the logic of the story, the central thrumming aesthetic question. Without the craft of language, the narrative seems lacking. I used to be a book purist– someone who believed that books were always better than their movie counterparts. I don’t believe this anymore, because I think that movies and books are two essentially different modes of storytelling, and so a movie adaption must be judged differently than the book. This being said, however, my heart still flinches at the injustice inflicted upon many a good book by horrific and painfully bad movie adaptations. The fact that The Goldfinch relied on language as an essential part of the structure of the narrative and in the history of Hollywood movies with bestsellers, I was incredibly weary of the film adaption. This, I believed, was one of the kinds of stories that movies could not capture. 

I went to the film with my friend who had not read the book. It was a nearly three-hour movie, dense and rich with images and motivations, trying too hard to encapsulate the plot of intricately woven nearly thousand-page novel. It is almost adorably endearing to me that any filmmaker would even attempt to grapple with the magnitude of this novel. It’s uncontainable! I wonder how Donna Tartt does it herself! Three hours is not enough! The psychologies of the characters are too complex, the relationship too deep, the philosophical underpinnings too expansive to capture in the form of film. Perhaps it is unfair of me to say this, and perhaps I am being unfair to the form itself, but they were much too ambitious. I think the film would have worked much better if they had focused on a particular aspect of Theo’s life and developed that carefully rather than trying to explain his relationship with Pippa, and Boris, and Hobie, and Mrs. Barbour, and Kitsey, and drugs, and artwork, and depression, etc etc. Choose one! You don’t have enough time!

Thus, in my opinion, the movie feels like a dilution of plot points, racing to the end. I cannot imagine the movie being successful as a standalone; without the book, it withers. Moreover, the images feel artificial to me, too constructed, and obviously symbolic– all in the varnish of a blockbuster-type style with oversaturated gray skies and all-brown and gray tones. I’m not entirely sure how to explain this, probably because I don’t have the proper film vocabulary, but it felt to me like the images were trying too hard to mean something. I would have liked it to all be scaled back, broken down into the elements of its true nature; not glamorized and made larger-than-life. I felt like I was watching a fantasy, like Harry Potter– and this was, intuitively, the wrong feeling for the story. 

My friend, who had not read the book, loved the movie very much, so perhaps this review is irrevocably restrained by my opinion. However, I did love that the movie reminded me more of my love for the book; when I got home, I sat down on the floor of my apartment with our dim lights while my roommates slept and re-read my favorite passages. If it could do that– spark joy and love, and remind me of what I loved– I am still grateful.

REVIEW: Tibetan Book Covers from the MacLean Collection

A Tibetan book cover featuring carvings of three divine figures and intricate decal, coated in gold-colored paint. Photo courtesy of the Crow Collection website

I had never thought of book covers as anything besides dusty, worn out blankets that hugged pages of a story together, but the special exhibit at the UMMA proved me wrong. Being the first ever exhibit in the United States to showcase Tibetan book covers, Protecting Wisdom: Tibetan Book Covers from the MacLean Collection, this collection is currently on display until April 2 of 2017, and so I took the opportunity to visit.

Expecting to see 8 x 11 cardboard covers encased in cloth or leather, I was greeted by wooden covers that measured two feet wide and about a foot tall; 33 or so of these were either situated on the gallery walls or in showcases. As I made my way through the gallery, I took in the intricacies of these Tibetan treasures: multiple gods were carved into these covers along with dragons, peacocks, floral decals, and so on. Paint in hues of gold, red, and green embellished the slabs of wood. Some of the detailing was so intricate that the cover was designed by several people.

Tibetan book cover
Photo courtesy of the Crow Collection website
Tibetan book cover
Photo courtesy of the Crow Collection website

The elaborate nature of these book covers is understood through its purpose. For Tibetan Buddhists, books are a divine presence where the Buddha lives and reveals himself, and so to honor him, detailed book covers were frequently commissioned. Tibetan book cover design has a history of more than a thousand years, and so these covers date back from anywhere in the 11th century to the 18th century. A gem of the exhibit is a wonderfully carved and painted book cover from the early 1290s.

I left the exhibit with a newfound respect for the art of designing book covers, especially the Tibetan book covers created by Buddhists. This exhibit is currently on display until the 2nd of April from 8:00am to 5:00pm from Tuesdays through Sundays, so please come out to view this gallery!

REVIEW: The Perks of Being a Wallflower: My 13 yearold self jumping up and down

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, written by Stephen Chbosky, was published in 1999. I read it for the first time in 2002 while in 7th grade and proceeded to read it at least 14 more times after. This book is well known in many preteen and teenage circles and is likely to pass from one friend to another with few words on the lips other than: “You have to read this book.”

Chbosky wrote a wonderful coming of age story, set somewhere outside Pittsburgh during the early 1990s. It is filled with mixed tapes, novels, clothing styles, life struggles, relationships and one young boy’s struggle with past painful experiences.

The film, which came out October 12, 2012 was adapted and directed by Chbosky. His writing translated very well to the screen and his original vision seemed to remain in this visual representation. Due to this format, Chbosky seemed to be able to take some of the book’s more delicately hinted concepts to a different level. He did a very nice job of portraying high school life in the 90’s with all the common themes of premature senses of adulthood and self-awareness.

The story is narrated in the form of letters by Charlie (played by Logan Lerman). A young boy starting his first day of high school. From the beginning he mentions a time when “things were bad.” His struggles and pains gradually become clear to us over the course of the film (I really don’t want to say too much about this because it was so well introduced in the film I feel I would be taking something away from you!) He becomes friends with a group of seniors, specifically Patrick and Sam (played by Ezra Miller and Emma Watson) who introduce him to music, style, a social life and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Many typical teenage complications occur, loves gained and lost, bad girlfriend habits, abusive and cheating boyfriends and some other not so common life experiences, mostly in Charlie’s past . . . the “bad times.”

It had been at least 7 years since the last time I read this book but it’s content still sticks to me. I spent the last 15 minuted of this movie with tears running down my cheeks. As did all the other teenage girls sitting in the theater with me! 🙂

Not only is this story beautifully constructed, it is also excellently adapted for the screen. The characters are likable and as difficult as some of the life truths may be they are all important to recognize and acknowledge.

For those of you who have read this book, I believe you will be pleasantly surprised. For those who have not, please go experience this film!

Another great thing about this movie, the soundtrack was excellently constructed. Much of the book is dedicated to talking about music. They did a very nice job of involving this theme in the film.

The Film: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1659337/

The Book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Perks_of_Being_a_Wallflower

The Music: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/perks-being-wallflower-original/id558273105