Book Review: All The Rage

alltherageAll The Rage
Courtney Summers
Young Adult fiction
337 pages
Published 2015

Wow. I finished this book, sat back, and stared at it in silence for a while. This is an emotional wringer of a book that more people should read. It’s also full of trauma triggers, so beware.

Trigger Warning. Rape and Recovery.

All The Rage is about a girl. It’s about rape culture. It’s about her trauma, and the aftermath. The book flashes back and forth a little – it includes a triggered flashback to her rape, and her memories of it. The font choices show how mixed up she is sometimes, and how hard it is for her to tell what’s really happening, what is a memory, and what is a flashback. Her rape is never written about in high detail. One Goodreads reviewer made a good point – the details being scant makes the shadows larger for the devil to hide in. (Her review is is posted in full on her blog, and it’s a powerful one.)

The book was an easy read, technically – I read it in an afternoon – but it was a very hard read, emotionally and mentally. The main character, Romy, talks about how no one prepares girls for this, and she’s right. As a society, we don’t. We tell girls how to avoid those kinds of situations, but not what to do when actually IN them. Or how to determine the best course of action. Because surviving an attack is usually the priority, and screaming and fighting isn’t always the best way to do that. Romy froze, and she blames herself for the failure to fight. But she also blames society for not teaching girls what to do. And once the unthinkable has happened, society abandons the victims. That was one of the hardest parts of the book – the victim-blaming. No one believes Romy. They call her a slut and a liar. Her high school classmates do horrible things to her.

The book is dark, but there are points of light. Leon is a coworker at the diner, and he’s sweet on Romy. The book uses the relationship to show how rape can affect any future intimacy. Romy can’t trust him, because her rapist seemed sweet, too. Until he wasn’t. Romy’s mother and mother’s boyfriend are both supportive, caring, and loving. They don’t understand what she’s going through, mostly because Romy won’t tell them, but they do their best anyway.

All The Rage is a really good book. It’s also a very important book, and personally I think it should be required reading in high school. (That will never happen, it’s too graphic and would offend parents, I’m sure. But it should.) If it’s something you’ve experienced personally, it’s very triggery and should maybe be avoided. But if it isn’t? Read this book. You need to know.

(The author of All The Rage is Canadian, which I didn’t realize until I was reading the blurb on the back, so this counts for my Read Canadian Challenge. Rape Culture is also a major problem facing the world today, so I’m counting this as “A book about a problem facing society today” for the PopSugar 2018 Challenge.)

My other Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. this book!
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of All The Rage:

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything-friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time-and they certainly won’t now-but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, Courtney Summers’ new novel All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women in a culture that refuses to protect them.

Book Review: Turtles All The Way Down

turtlesTurtles All The Way Down
John Green
Young Adult Fiction
298 pages
Published October 2017

So what the cover description of this book doesn’t explicitly mention is that Aza, the main character, has a pretty severe anxiety disorder. That’s really the core topic of the book – her thought spirals and dealing with life while caught in them. I trust John Green to write about these because he also suffers from severe anxiety. He’s talked about it in interviews and his vlogbrothers Youtube channel. (I’m a big Green brothers fan – what’s known as a nerdfighter.) So when John Green writes a character with anxiety, I believe that it’s a realistic portrayal. I loved the integration of technology in the story – two characters don’t just text each other, the text conversation is on the page, formatted differently, so it’s obvious these are text messages. I always love books that do that.

There’s not a whole lot I can say about the book without giving things away; a lot of John Green’s characters tend to wax eloquently about philosophy and things outside themselves, and Aza doesn’t do that because she’s so trapped within her own thoughts. She can’t think of the future or existential dread because she’s too worried about the microbes in her stomach getting out of control and giving her diseases. Definitely a departure from his usual story, though it does fit his standard MO of Main character meets other character who profoundly changes main character’s life in some way. (There’s a third part that is also consistent with most of John Green’s novels but it’s a spoiler.)

I think the book is a really good book for anyone who loves someone with anxiety. Or even for those who have anxiety themselves, to see that they’re not alone.

From the cover of Turtles All The Way Down:

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.
   
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 
 
In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

Book Review: Furiously Happy

furiouslyhappyFuriously Happy: a Funny Book about Horrible Things
Jenny Lawson
Memoir?
353 pages
Published 2015

How do you even begin to explain a Jenny Lawson book? Known as The Bloggess on the internet, Lawson is one of the most laugh-out-loud, hysterically funny, off-the-wall-crazy-pants writers I’ve ever come across. From her antics with taxidermied animals to the bizarre arguments she has with her husband to the weird tangents her brain goes on, Lawson is one of the most entertaining people on the internet. In Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong fight with mental illness, from depression to anxiety to a number of manias, and she does so in a lovely, non-judgmental way. She does get serious – she talks about her “folder of 24” – 24 letters from suicidal people telling her that she, and the community she’s built, are the reason they’re still here. Lawson tackles the topic of depression head on, and by writing down the bizarre things that go through her head, lets people know THEY’RE NOT ALONE, and that’s incredibly important.

As the subtitle of the book says, it might be a book about a serious topic, but oh. my. is it funny. Between sneaking a taxidermied ecstatically happy raccoon into view of her husband’s video conferences, and trying to snuggle koalas in Australia while dressed in a full-body koala costume, Lawson also talks about waking up in the middle of the night thinking her arms have fallen off, and being stalked by carnivorous swans. Lawson’s blog is hilarious, and this book is one of the most insanely funny things I’ve ever read, and now I have to track down her other two books. (Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and You Are Here)

From the cover of Furiously Happy:

In Furiously Happy, a humor memoir tinged with just enough tragedy and pathos to make it worthwhile, Jenny Lawson examines her own experience with severe depression and a host of other conditions, and explains how it has led her to live life to the fullest:

“I’ve often thought that people with severe depression have developed such a well for experiencing extreme emotion that they might be able to experience extreme joy in a way that ‘normal people’ also might never understand. And that’s what Furiously Happy is all about.”

Jenny’s readings are standing room only, with fans lining up to have Jenny sign their bottles of Xanax or Prozac as often as they are to have her sign their books. Furiously Happy appeals to Jenny’s core fan base but also transcends it. There are so many people out there struggling with depression and mental illness, either themselves or someone in their family―and in Furiously Happy they will find a member of their tribe offering up an uplifting message (via a taxidermied roadkill raccoon). Let’s Pretend This Never Happened ostensibly was about embracing your own weirdness, but deep down it was about family. Furiously Happy is about depression and mental illness, but deep down it’s about joy―and who doesn’t want a bit more of that?

Book Review: The Journal of Best Practices

journalThe Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband
by David Finch
Memoir
222 pages
Published 2012

Well. I’m still not 100% back to health, but I’m well enough to get absorbed in a book again! This book was especially interesting to me because we are pretty sure that my husband is on the autism spectrum. What would have been called Asperger’s a few years ago, before they wrapped that back into autism, because it’s all the same syndrome – it just differs in how it impacts people. (The book was obviously written before that happened, though Asperger’s still seems to be shorthand for autistic people that don’t fit what most people think of as autistic – what some people would call high-functioning, I suppose, though that’s also not as cut and dried as it seems. Rebecca Burgess described it well in her comic on Tumblr.)

I read portions of this book aloud to my husband, because they described him to a T. The very first page mentions how Finch recalls his niece’s birthday, not because he’s a good uncle, but because it’s 3/14 – Pi. My husband remembers my birthday because it’s half a stick of RAM (well it used to be, anyway!) – 5/12. Now he remembers it as 2^9. The first chapter then goes on to describe how Finch’s wife sat him down with a self-diagnostic questionnaire (he received an official diagnosis later) and he was surprised at how many questions described him. While they didn’t list all 200 or so questions in the book, the ones that were mentioned I asked my husband. He was a Yes to all but one, and looked at me afterwards with a laugh and a joking “I’m feeling a little attacked right now!” That included questions like “Do you sometimes have an urge to jump over things?” (Yes) and “Have you been fascinated by making traps?” Husband told me about a book on survival he’d been given when he was 14 or so – he doesn’t remember much of it, but he can recall almost verbatim the chapter on traps and snares.

The book was a fascinating look into the mind of an adult with autism trying (and succeeding!) to navigate a relationship. It gave us a lot to talk about, and a few new strategies to try. If you know or love anyone on the autism spectrum, I highly recommend this book. It might help you understand how they see things.

I have another book on autism to read soon – Been There, Done That, Try This! – about coping strategies for autistic adults. I’m eager to see how much of that we can use in our daily lives.

From the cover of The Journal of Best Practices:

At some point in nearly every marriage, a wife finds herself asking, What the @#!% is wrong with my husband?! In David Finch’s case, this turns out to be an apt question. Five years after he married Kristen, the love of his life, they learn that he has Asperger syndrome. The diagnosis explains David’s ever-growing list of quirks and compulsions, his lifelong propensity to quack and otherwise melt down in social exchanges, and his clinical-strength inflexibility. But it doesn’t make him any easier to live with.

Determined to change, David sets out to understand Asperger syndrome and learn to be a better husband – no easy task for a guy whose inability to express himself rivals his two-year-old daughter’s, who thinks his responsibility for laundry extends no further than throwing things in (or at) the hamper, and whose autism-spectrum condition makes seeing his wife’s point of view a near impossibility.

Nevertheless, David devotes himself to improving his marriage with an endearing yet hilarious zeal that involves excessive note-taking, performance reviews, and most of all, the Journal of Best Practices: a collection of hundreds of maxims and hard-won epiphanies that result from self-reflection both comic and painful. They include “Don’t change the radio station when she’s singing along,” “Apologies do not count when you shout them,” and “Be her friend, first and always.” Guided by the Journal of Best Practices, David transforms himself over the course of two years from the world’s most trying husband to the husband who tries the hardest, the husband he’d always meant to be.