We Are Infinite: The Importance of The Perks of Being A Wallflower

Week of 5/19/2019 – Book recommendation: Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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In February 1999, Stephen Chbosky published his debut novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Some of you may be familiar with its 2012 film adaptation starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller (a beautifully-made film, I might add), but on Monday, Chbosky officially announced that he will be releasing his second novel, entitled Imaginary Friend, in October. Upon hearing this news, I found myself reverting back to Perks, and remembering how much I loved this coming-of-age novel. In 2015, some high schools called for the banning of Chbosky’s novel in English / Literature classes, but I am on the side of the spectrum against its banning. This story was / still is important in terms of ending the stigma toward mental health. Not only that, but this novel also touches on subjects such as suicide, sexuality / sexual orientation / sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, and identity. As difficult as these subjects can be to talk about, Chbosky in no way “glamorizes” these themes; rather, he gives every reader a chance to relate to some aspect of the novel and emphasizes that we are all misfits in our own, unique way.

In the interest of writing a spoiler-free review for those who have not read this masterpiece yet, The Perks of Being a Wallflower tells the story of our wallflower, fifteen-year-old Charlie Kelmeckis, who is coping with the suicide of his best friend, Michael. To lessen his anxieties of going through high school alone, he writes letters to an anonymous friend, recounting his childhood and present-day life situations. Along the way, he meets two high school seniors, Patrick and his step-sister, Sam, who essentially show Charlie the ropes to surviving high school and encourage him to “participate” in every aspect of life, rather than just being an observer.

As mentioned, Perks deals with some hard-hitting material, but it also points out the lighter side of life, such as music, friendship, and humor. I’ve said this before about other novels I’ve reviewed, but Charlie’s story will take you on an emotional roller-coaster. High school is the time in which we really start to self-identify, so a novel touching on how much one year can really fuel our growth, is of huge importance. Filled with a plethora of highly relatable quotes, it is a story of finding self-confidence and being accepted, and by the end, we get the sense that everything will be okay.

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Vulnerability is Strength: Chelsea Handler’s ‘Life Will Be the Death of Me’

Week of 4/21/2019 – Book recommendation: Chelsea Handler’s Life Will Be the Death of Me…and you too!

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Let me preface this book review by saying this: I love Chelsea Handler. I love how she is unapologetically herself. She keeps it real with her opinions and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. That “what you see is what you get,” / “I am who I am” type of attitude is sometimes what I aspire to have, and is what draws me to her personality. While I know her sense of humor isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I appreciate her for remaining true to herself, despite what others may think. In her newest memoir, Life Will be the Death of Me…and you too!, Chelsea shows an even more vulnerable side to her that I, and many others, haven’t seen before. She gets candid about her year in therapy, opens up about the loss of loved ones, drugs and marijuana, privilege and politics, and the hardships that come with being a dog-mom. All while making use of her sarcastic attitude and sense of humor, she strives to come to terms with why she is the way she is, and remains open to the idea of bettering herself.

One of my favorite aspects about this book is how Chelsea speaks so openly of her therapy sessions with her therapist, Dan Siegel. Recently, more celebrities have come out of the limelight to reveal that they attend therapy regularly, and I love the idea of ending the stigma surrounding mental health. Just like people note physical progress when going to the gym, what’s wrong with noting our mental progress when it comes to our emotions on a daily basis? Chelsea offers readers the advice / realizations that Dan helped her discover through therapy, and it has the power to help those who might not have access to therapy, or who can relate to her situations. It should be noted that while their conversations tackle heavy subject matter, some conversations bring out a more “playful” side to their relationship (or perhaps just Chelsea’s wit)–their back-and-forth banter made me laugh out loud, specifically on the topic of men and Chelsea’s decision to remain single.

Speaking of heavy subject matter, Chelsea discusses the unexpected death of her oldest brother, Chet, and the repercussions it had on the family dynamic when she was just nine-years-old. She also speaks about losing her mother and father, and how their deaths eventually taught her a lot about forgiveness, empathy, and to look at one’s life as a whole, rather than in moments of weakness. Essentially, death is a subject Chelsea tries hard to avoid talking about; yet, ironically becomes the very subject she needs to rebuild herself.

In addition to the more difficult subject matter discussed in this book, it is perfectly balanced out with more lighthearted subjects, such as dating, getting high, or training the newest four-legged members of her family, Bert and Bernice. I found myself reading this book with Chelsea’s voice engrained in the back of my mind, and I could totally envision her telling these stories in stand-up.

Life Will Be the Death of Me…and you too! took me on an emotional roller coaster. It had me tearing up from either laughing, or thinking about the loss of my own loved ones. I will admit that there are a few points she brought up that I didn’t wholeheartedly agree with–points I’m going to omit for now…but effective writing is supposed to spark emotion; both good or bad. I encourage you to read this book to better understand how the ups and downs of life can ultimately take you where you need to be…to know that you are definitely not alone in the road to self-discovery. Look beyond your personal, political, or religious beliefs, and keep an open mind. You never know, maybe you will take something away from reading Chelsea Handler’s words. I know I have.

Top 5 favorite quotes:

“If you went to the gym every day, you were going to get stronger; this was my mental gym” (84).

“I define me. No event or person does this. I define me. I decide who I am and how I’m going to behave, and I choose to be better” (104).

“…I didn’t need so many people around me all the time. That I was enough on my own, and that more time alone would be good for me…That happiness can come without all that noise, and that I can choose to find that happiness alone” (159).

“Don’t let other people decide what kind of mood you’re going to be in…Go down, but get back up” (234).

“…slowing down doesn’t mean you have to do less. It means you have to pay attention more and catch what the world is throwing at you. That every situation you put yourself in deserves your full attention, and that each of us has a responsibility to be more aware of ourselves and of others” (236).

Use Your Voice: ‘The Hate U Give’ Speaks Volumes

Week of 12/16/2018 – Book recommendation: Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give

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Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give is by far one of my favorite reads this year, despite its 2017 release. It tells the story from the point-of-view of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter, who constantly finds herself stuck between two worlds: the Starr from her impoverished neighborhood of Garden Heights, and ‘Williamson Starr,’ who attends a rich, suburban school which is a predominantly white community. When Starr witnesses the death of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer while unarmed, Starr must battle her grief, embrace the role of being the sole witness to a murder, and learn to use her voice to fight for justice for Khalil as her two worlds slowly begin to collide.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel is that Angie Thomas takes readers on an emotional roller coaster. I laughed, I cried, I got angry, and I rooted for Starr at pivotal points of the story. Great writers have the ability to invoke emotion in readers; both good or bad. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Thomas raises awareness to real issues in today’s society. While racism or police brutality are incredibly sensitive topics to tackle, she gives readers an opportunity to understand these events through a different perspective. Although there is blame put on the police officer who killed Khalil, Starr acknowledges that there are good police officers out there, and still hopes to see more of them shine through.

It’s hard to believe that this is Thomas’ debut novel because Starr’s character, as well as secondary characters, are so wonderfully written and developed. Starr experiences events that no sixteen-year-old should ever have to, but still, she remains a strong and brave protagonist and essentially becomes a voice for the voiceless. Despite Starr’s hardships, she also deals with things that “normal teens” go through: boyfriend and friend drama, her love for Beyonce or the Jonas Brothers, and her passion for basketball. In addition, Starr’s incredibly supportive family consists of such lovable characters, who also have their fair share of struggles. For example, Starr’s father, Maverick, a former felon, decided to leave gang life behind him to better provide for his family. Eventually, his past catches up to him and Starr is put in danger based on what she does or does not reveal. From Sekani’s childhood innocence and humor to Lisa and Maverick’s voices of reason, each character plays an important role in Starr’s growth throughout the novel.

Sometimes, the reading can feel a bit slow–perhaps to mirror the grieving process Starr is going through; however, the tension is always there. I found myself wanting to continue reading because I wanted to know what would happen next, even though in the back of my mind, I already knew the outcome. All while carrying various themes, Angie Thomas emphasizes that our voice is the most powerful tool we will ever use. Besides tragedy, there are sprinkles of humor and light heartedness to Starr’s journey that make this a brutally honest read and incredible insight to our society today. Starr’s story deserves to be told.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: A Killer Unmasked

Week of 4/22/2018 – Book recommendation: Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

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“The doorbell rings.
No side gates are left open. You’re long past leaping over a fence. Take one of your hyper, gulping breaths. Clench your teeth. Inch timidly toward the insistent bell.
This is how it ends for you.
‘You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark,’ you threatened a victim once.
Open the door. Show us your face.
Walk into the light.”
– Michelle McNamara, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

After 40 years, an arrest was made today of the man believed to be the “Golden State Killer,” also known as the “East Area Rapist.” With a 100% DNA match to the cases, Joseph James DeAngelo, the man responsible for 50 rapes and 12 murders, is finally off the street–and we have Michelle McNamara to thank for playing a huge role in his arrest. Because of her, this case gained national attention, paved the way for detectives to reopen it, and ultimately, catch one of America’s worst serial predators.

Fair warning, be ready to read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark in its entirety once you pick it up. Michelle McNamara researches / handles one of the most stomach-churning and frustrating cases with grace, and it truly shines through her writing. McNamara goes in to grave detail about her investigation and attempting to understand how someone can be so cruel. She immerses herself in to each case, providing frightening details of what victims went through–her empathy and passionate effort to catch the man responsible brings light to such dark subject matter, making it a perfect balance for a non-fiction, true crime story. The quote above is from a letter McNamara penned to the Golden State Killer, on the day of his eventual arrest. I found it very fitting to share upon hearing the news.

Unfortunately, McNamara tragically passed away before her book was published, but it’s an amazing feeling to know that her hard work and research has paid off, and that justice has been served.

As a true crime fan, the case of the “Golden State Killer” (a nickname penned by McNamara) has always caught my attention. Not just because I live so close to the area where most of the crimes were committed, but because it baffled me that there weren’t any leads for the longest time. This disgrace of a man made elaborate plans to ruin the lives of so many; from stalking his victims to eventually murdering them…it makes me sick to my stomach knowing that he got away with it for so long.

Thank you, Michelle. You kept this case alive. You caught him.

A Spoonful of Sugar

Week of 10/23/2016 – Book recommendation: Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Advice columns and/or self-help books. For some of you, it might not be your cup of tea. See, that’s what I thought until I finally gave in and decided to expose myself to this unfamiliar territory. To be completely honest, I’ve come across a fair share of self-help books that failed to catch my attention. A lot of the time, it just felt like I was re-reading the same book over and over again, just with a different title. Other times, I felt judgment radiating from the pages because the main point that came across was that I had to be happy every single moment of everyday…and I think that’s why particular crowds tend to shy away from self-help books. I can’t speak for everyone, but I definitely don’t want to feel judged for the way I choose to handle my anxiety, nor do I want to be guilt tripped for feeling / thinking the way I do. Despite the seemingly robotic tones of this particular genre, I still keep an open-mind when it comes to potentially inspiring / motivating pieces of art. So now the question is, why would we spend so much time reading about the same concepts or the same advice?

Answer: Because life is fuckin’ hard. There comes a time when we all need to realize that we can’t handle everything on our own, and once in a while, we desperately need that voice to tell us that we can, and will, get through it all. We want to feel inspired to make better, healthier choices…to strive for growth, visualize a different perspective, and believe that there are no limitations to our capabilities. Sometimes, friends, doctors or even family advice can’t quite stick; that is until certain writers, musicians, filmmakers, etc. come along and know just how to word their advice (or stories) and end up positively contributing to mental or spiritual growth. For me, personally, Strayed is one of those writers. Maybe it’s the fact that this is the first self-help book I’ve read that is in the style of an advice column, but compared to other self-help authors, Strayed offers that fresh, new voice I have been looking for. At times, she is humorously sarcastic, but when it boils down to it, painfully honest and incredibly open. Before offering advice, she pulls events from her own life and relates her personal memoirs to the given situation. This tells readers that she is extremely thoughtful when it comes to offering advice, and she will try her utmost best to make her words meaningful to every person who reads her book. In no way does she ever come off as judgmental, rude, or condescending (like some authors may tend to do without realizing); rather, she shows a deep understanding of various personalities and reminds her readers that it is okay to feel like complete shit sometimes.

Another huge plus for me, is that the letters written to her are kept in their original form, from the people who sent them. I feel that in doing so, Strayed illustrates an incredible affection and loyalty toward her readers, and it just offers that deeper sense of connection. Although I can’t say that I relate to every situation, it still helps to know that there are people out there dealing with the same, stressful curve balls that life randomly throws our way. So whether it is sex / love, friendship, family, or just life advice that you need, I would definitely recommend that you read what Strayed has to say.

Purchase Tiny Beautiful Things here

Top 3 Favorite Quotes: 

“Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true” (52).

“Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start there” (198).

“You go on by doing the best you can. You go on by being generous. You go on by offering comfort to others who can’t go on. You go on by allowing the unbearable days to pass and allowing the pleasure in other days. You go on by finding a channel for your love and another for your rage” (284). 

 

Intertwining the Traditional and Contemporary

Bharati Mukherjee’s “A Father” revolves around Mr. Bhowmick, a family man who unlike his wife and daughter, struggles to assimilate into American culture. While he remains loyal to his Indian culture, specifically through religion, he recognizes that his wife and daughter stray away from their native traditions. As Mr. Bhowmick continues to reject the American lifestyle, this causes a rift in the family dynamic. Similarly, Lalita Gandbhir’s poem, “To My Beloved Teenager” addresses two distinct lifestyles within one household. The speaker in the poem holds a grudge against her Americanized teenager for dismissing their Indian culture. In both cases, Mukherjee and Gandbhir illustrate a suffering of the family dynamic due to generational conflicts between parents and children…

Read the remainder of my analysis of Mukherjee’s and Ganbhir’s works here.

A Woman’s World: A Feminist Look at “Bartleby”

In Herman Melville’s “Bartleby,” an unnamed narrator-lawyer recalls his encounter with the mysterious Bartleby. The lawyer soon becomes captivated with Bartleby’s stubborn nature, and tries to no avail, to assert his position by trying to get through to him. Despite the lawyer’s attempts, Bartleby refuses to submit to any demand. For many years,  critics utilized “Bartleby” to analyze mental illness, isolation, and the effect that comes with working on Wall Street; however, one can see feminist undertones throughout the story. If readers were to visualize certain characters in Melville’s story as women, would it alter the way we read the story? Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut symbolize typical nineteenth century women. The lawyer represents the common man; yet, he constantly exhibits motherly instincts when it comes to Bartleby. In contrast, Bartleby depicts the “New Woman” by proclaiming independence. Although Bartleby is a story based on a male-dominated Wall Street, perhaps Melville intended to defend the new-found transformation of women in society. Gender roles were in the midst of being shifted, and Melville combines masculine complexions with feminine behaviors to show that man and woman are one and the same….

Read the rest of my feminist theory to Melville’s “Bartleby” here.

For Better or Worse: A Look at Transformation in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew

William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew revolves around Baptista and his two daughters, Katherine and Bianca, who have yet to marry. Despite many suitors vying for Bianca’s attention, Baptista forbids her to marry until Katherine marries first. Unlike Bianca who masks a well-mannered young woman, Katherine displays vicious behavior, which makes it difficult for her father to find a rightful suitor for her. Upon Petruccio’s arrival in Padua, he announces his intentions to marry a rich woman regardless of her looks; however, this goal becomes second priority when he hears about Katherine’s shrewish reputation. From the Lord’s prank in the Induction to Katherine’s mentality shift, transformation finds its way into each aspect of this play. Ultimately, the central theme of transformation in The Taming of the Shrew allows readers to understand animalistic imagery, symbolism of a domestic household, and character disguise and dialogue…

Read the rest of my analysis of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew here.

A New Age of Justice: Analyzing the Theme of Justice in Aeschylus’ Oresteia Trilogy

Aeschylus’ The Oresteia trilogy explores the establishment of democratic justice following tragic events that occur within King Agamemnon’s family several years after the Trojan War. From Agamemnon’s murder to Orestes’ trial at the temple of Athena, each play symbolizes different eras of justice. The first play, Agamemnon, represents a monarchical society in which Agamemnon is the ruler of the people. The Libation Bearers exemplifies a tyrannical society in which Orestes looks to the Gods for justification in avenging his father’s death. In Eumenides, Athena allows a jury to decide Orestes’ fate in trial, resulting in the establishment of a democratic society. While the first two plays represent old forms of justice, the last play represents a new era of justice. Aeschylus promotes justice as the definitive theme throughout The Oresteia, which enables readers to better understand character dialogue and their vengeful actions…

Read the rest of my analysis  on Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy here.