Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

Roxane Gay is a badass. This was my very first thought when she came onto my radar. This was back in, oh, 2012, maybe? I was part of The Rumpus book club for over 2 years, and Roxane was a writer for the website Roxane Gay’s work while I was there. I knew of her from her essays and articles, but never really *knew* her until she popped into the book club discussions. There was a woman in the book club who drove met bat shit crazy. I will call this woman Batty. She was rude and condescending and just awful. And no one stood up to her. Until Roxane showed up. She, very directly and firmly, put this woman in her place. There were no words minced. And I cheered from behind my computer screen because FINALLY someone had the nerve and ability to do this task that I had secretly been begging someone to do. Batty was silenced. And it was beautiful. I knew from that minute that Roxane Gay was a badass. Let me be perfectly clear. She still is a badass.

Back then during the Batty takedown, I had no idea what Roxane looked like. Not one clue. When her book An Untamed State came out, I finally saw pictures of her attached to her reviews and realized she is black. Okay. Got it. No problem. But it truly wasn’t until this book was released and subsequent podcasts, reviews, interviews, etc that I realized that Roxane is fat (her words). Clinically, she is “super morbidly obese.” And after reading this book in a matter of hours, I stand by my original statement that she is a badass.

It is perfectly clear that Roxane doesn’t want pity for her body. Because her body doesn’t reflect who she is deep down. Or it does. (stealing a bit of her writing style here) She is more than her body. Aren’t we all. But living life with her body isn’t just a challenge. It is an all encompassing every minute of every day challenge. There are things in life she deals with that aren’t even on the radar of other people. Roxane doesn’t fit neatly into a mold of what society feels a woman should look like. She is also 6’3″, which provides its own challenges, of course. But her weight is what this book mainly focuses on.

And, as she puts it, there is a before and after in her life. Before a certain event (which I will not tell here. It is much too personal of a story for her. It is her story. Not mine) she was happy, shy but friendly, typical girl growing up in the Midwest. Her family loved her. She was supported. Then the terrible thing happened and she changed. Her world changed. Her life changed. And her body changed. She ate to escape the pain. She ate to make herself bigger so people wouldn’t want her. She ate and ate and ate and tried her best to hide her sadness, blaming herself for everything. Deep down parts of that girl still live inside her, shouting from the depths “You aren’t worthy. You don’t deserve love. You are fat. You are ugly.” Her internal monologue is brutal to read. Absolutely heartbreaking. Because Roxane is a badass. And not just because she took down someone who drove me crazy. But because she is authentic. Because she is true. Because she is real. Because she is healing. Because she is human.

I am not a writer. I don’t even pretend to be any form of writer, even in these reviews. So I know I’m not doing justice to her as a writer or her book, and I apologize for that. However, let me make this as clear as I can. Every woman should read this book. Not just women who society has labeled because of their weight. Not just women who look in the mirror and view themselves negatively. Not just women who avoid mirrors at all. Not just women who struggle with finding clothes that fit. Each and every woman. Because Roxane speaks to us all. Our insecurities, our need to be loved and accepted, our desire to be seen for who we are on the inside and not judged by our outsides. Thank you for this book, Roxane, and thank you for being a badass.

Mistborn

A friend of mine has been bugging me to read something by Brandon Sanderson. A couple years ago, I put The Way of Kings on hold at the library to appease said friend. When I picked it up, I quickly realized I wasn’t ready for this commitment. It’s ridiculously long and I’m not a fantasy fan. At all. So, for the 2017 book challenge, I knew I had to read a book from a genre I don’t normally read. I was in. Ready to go. The Way of Kings here I come. And…… I read Mistborn instead because it was shorter. In my defense, I’m reading several 1000+ page books this year. And TWOK series isn’t finished. But, the good news is that I can’t wait to read more of his work.

Mistborn technically could be a young adult book, but thankfully the characters don’t act like typical teens. The main character, Vin, is a teenage thief trying to make it on the street with other thiefs and just isn’t all that successful. She’s hungry and miserable and abused. A man named Kelsier decides to help her. Not out of the kindness of his heart, but because he needs her and her abilities. She doesn’t even know she has abilities, but he can see it in her. Vin is a mistborn, meaning, she can use metal to control her body, thoughts, the thoughts of others, etc. All she has to do is ingest a few metal flakes and “burn” them using her energy and she can possess near supernatural powers. I realize this sounds really strange and far out there, but it works. Really. I’m the most skeptical person when it comes to this kind of literature, but Sanderson convinced me.

The entire plot revolves around taking down the Lord Ruler (aka God in their world) and the government he controls. Kelsier and Vin are joined by others with similar misting powers. Vin, being the youngest, isn’t treated much differently than the others which is hard for her to adjust to. And she is still a kid, really. There is a bit of a teenage love story in the book, but it isn’t sappy or stupid or unrealistic.

I flew this book in a few days, even though it is fairly long itself. And I can’t wait to read the others in the series and see what happens. I’m so glad I was talking into reading his work. And I really do promise I’ll get to The Way of Kings at some point. I actually own the first two books, so I have no excuse now.

The Young Elites

I read Marie Lu’s Legend series when it first came out, and it’s one I recommend to people looking for YA dystopia. I consider it to be one of the better series out there. I was hoping for the same feeling when I heard she had another series out, The Young Elites, but, I can’t say I felt the same grip to read more like I did with Legend.

The premise itself is interesting. A fever strikes a country killing some, leaving others unharmed, but a select few become “marked” with different color hair, skin, and with mysterious powers. One can command the wind, another fire. Their energy seems to come from the elements. However, Adelina only discovers her powers in a time of great distress. Taken from her family, she is guided by the others like her, The Young Elites, through a series of events. The Elites are outcasts and are trying to make their place in the world, so to speak.

I am going to be vague to avoid spoilers, but one of my least favorite plotlines happens in this book. Someone has a secret, but is too scared to share it, so bad things happen because he/she kept quiet. It happens so much in YA books, and it drives me nuts. It is just so unoriginal and overdone. I was disappointed this book’s main plot involved this very concept. However, the ending was good and the epilogue was even better.

Because of these two things, I will keep reading the series. I like Adelina as a character, but the main bad guys are pretty thin and cliched. But, because the Legend series is so great, I have hope that this series picks up in the next two books.

Ghost Boy

I really don’t enjoy sad books. If it’s one that will make me cry, I steer clear. And even though this book was about a person with a disability trying to overcome challenges, it was nowhere near as sad as I expected it to be.

I originally heard the author’s, Martin, story on the news and was really interested in his life and his progress. When he was 14, Martin fell into a non-responsive, vegetative state. The process took about a year, and to this day, no one is really sure what happened. He spent every day at a care facility while his parents worked and his siblings went to school, and every evening, his parents brought him home. After three years of this, Martin began to “wake up” and become aware of his surroundings. His brain was fully functional, but his voice and body wouldn’t respond really. He could move his eyes,  could barely move his head, and could smile. Most of his care givers chalked this up as involuntary. However, one woman, an aromatherapist who would come and massage Martin’s body (being stuck in a wheelchair and in one position most of the day is very painful) and she began to notice he was trying to communicate with his eyes or smile. She was one of the few people who ever talked to him directly during his time at the facility.

Martin’s parents agree to have him tested to see if he is able to communicate, and sure enough, the aromatherapist was right. When asked to look at a picture of a ball, he was able to look right at it. A picture of a dog, again, right at it. Slowly, through more directed therapy, Martin was able to communicate using a laptop, specialized software, and a board with pictures listed on it. Since Martin came out of his state, he lost all formal education and couldn’t read. Slowly, he taught himself. As his body grew stronger, his ability to teach himself did too.

Martin’s story truly is amazing. I would think that at some point, since he was progressing, someone would have noticed the changes in him, but the aromatherapist was key to it all. To this day, Martin is still unable to speak, but that doesn’t stop him in any way. He lives his life to the fullest and has accomplished more than you could imagine.

This book is absolutely a must read. I didn’t cry, but I do admit that I got teary towards the end, but for such happy reasons.

The Troop

I apologize for the delay in posting. I’ve been doing a bit of beta reading. Side note- if anyone needs a beta reader, please contact me!

It is no secret that I love Stephen King. He’s just one of the greatest writers and I think doesn’t get the respect he deserves because he’s mostly known for being a horror writer. But he is so much more than that. He’s truly a master storyteller. So, when he recommends books, I make a note to read them at some point. For the 2017 book challenge, I had to read a book recommended by an author you love, so this was an easy category. I already had The Troop on my Kindle and just hadn’t gotten to it, yet. I have previously read another of Nick Cutter’s books, The Deep, and really enjoyed that one, so I was looking forward to another one.

Hoooo boy, this one was pretty intense. And gross. Like really gross, by my standards. I still liked it, but the grossness was a bit of a turn off. This is a personal preference, though. It says nothing about his writing or storytelling. The basic plot is that a troop of 14 year old Boy Scouts (or whatever the Canadian equivalent is…I forget exactly the specifics) and their Scoutmaster have gone camping on a deserted island just off Prince Edward Island when a sick guy in a boat comes along. The guy smashes their radio and the boat he came on no longer works. It’s clear the man is dying, and conveniently, the Scoutmaster is a doctor, but he can’t figure out what is wrong. As the story progresses, you get answers as to what the illness is, and unfortunately, how it spreads from person to person. Yep. It’s rough.

The boys (5 of them) have their own demons to face (one’s an asshole, one’s overweight, etc) which play into the dynamics of the situation. This book was reminiscent of The Long Walk (by SK under the Bachman name) where you wonder which one(s) will make it alive. It’s pretty clear from the onset that not everyone makes it home from the island. The story is also told after the event is over from the perspective of media reports, interviews, etc. These small bits are interspersed in the chapters.

But, like I said, you’ve been warned that this book is pretty gross in parts. I don’t want to go into detail to avoid spoilers, but if you are the least bit squeamish about the human body and illness, it might behoove you to avoid this one. I’ve read worse, yes, but I do want to just let you know.

Overall, I enjoyed Cutter’s other book, The Deep, more. That shouldn’t detract from this book though. It’s a great read. I truly couldn’t put it down, wondering who survives and just how horrific the story was going to get.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific

A friend recommended this book to me a few years ago. And, immediately, I was turned off,  simply because of the title. But they, he proceeded to tell me about the plot: a guy and his girlfriend movie to a tiny, barely inhabited island in the Pacific and try to survive for a few years. What all this has to do with sex lives and cannibals, even after reading the book, I still have no idea. However, don’t judge this book by the title. It is entirely worth reading.

Maarten and his girlfriend, Sylvia, move to Tarawa, which is near the equator, nearly a third world country where water must be boiled before drinking, where people (literally) shit in the ocean only to have it washed back up to shore, where dogs are such a nuisance that they are either eaten or aren’t even braked for when driving, where fish is eaten at every meal, where canned goods are flown in, sporadically, from Australia, where this is no hospital or medicine, and where the live expectancy is just over 50 years old. So, yea. Given all that, this book is really funny. Maarten’s experience, harrowing and hilarious, is not one I would ever embark on. Ever. But I’m glad he did, and survived, to tell us this story. And, of course, in the back of your mind, you will realize just how wonderful we have it with food, water, medicine, and shit free oceans.

He has written other books about his travel, but my friend says this is his best work. Between vignettes of his situation, he tells us about the history of the island and its surrounding neighbors. This was much less interesting to me, but for no reason other than I’m just not interested in it. It was still well researched and well written. I wasn’t expecting much from this book, but I’m very glad I picked it up.

The Life We Bury

Finding a book I haven’t read shouldn’t be that hard, but when the librarian tried to give me recommendations, she went with the most popular books as of late, all of which I have read. For the 2017 book challenge, I have to read a book recommended by a librarian, so I approached the desk with my query. She recommended The Nightingale, Gillian Flynn books, The Girl on the Train, etc. Check. Check. Check. So, she went to Amazon to look for books that are similar to these and came up with The Life We Bury. So, not officially librarian recommended, but I’m sticking with it.

Joe Talbert is a college kid with the assigned task of writing an older person’s biography. He has no one in his life that fits this bill, so he heads to a local assisted living facility and finds Carl Iverson. Carl has been let out of prison because he’s dying of cancer. And, even though he was convicted of rape and murder, letting him out to die seemed to be the right thing to do. Unlike the other residents, Carl is fully lucid each day and is willing to tell his story. Joe isn’t really sure he even wants to hear this story, but the assignment is pressing. Joe lives two hours away from home, leaving behind an alcoholic mother and an autistic brother. As his mother pulls him back home for various reasons, we see Joe as a caring, protective brother. One night Joe has to bring his brother back home with him, to his tiny apartment, and runs into a neighbor, Lila, who is great with his brother and ends up getting sucked into Carl’s story as well.

Of course, being a thriller, there are twists and turns. Did Carl really commit this horrible crime? If not, who did? Carl has a very mysterious past, going all the way to Vietnam, and he has never been the same since. But has whatever happened in the past affected him so greatly that he would rape and murder a teenage girl? I felt like Joe’s brother was more of a catalyst to get Joe and Lila together rather than an actual important part of the story. But that might just me being overly critical. I really did enjoy the author, Allen Eskens’, writing style. I wouldn’t say the plot was predictable, but writing an original thriller is hard to do these days. However, his writing was really great. Sadly, I returned the book to the library already, or I would type up a few phrases that stood out. My apologies. But I have looked up his other works on Amazon and hope to read some of them soon.