Although Jenny Lawson is technically writes for “adults,” I think there are probably a great many teens who would benefit from reading this memoir. Although some adults might cringe to think of teens reading or listening to Lawson’s cursing, I know that most teens probably wouldn’t be the least bit bothered. I mean — I know, from experience, that many teens’ speech is peppered with “f-bombs” to the extent that they don’t even realize they are swearing… But, I digress.
As someone who personally struggles with OCD and depression, I think this book is very important for at least three reasons:
- People who live with depression and anxiety might find some solace in knowing they are not alone (and will likely experience a feeling of hope that their own lives can improve if they are feeling low);
- People who do not know what it is like to live with depression and anxiety can get a no-holds-barred look at the realities of living with mental illness… you know, #EndTheStigma and all that; and
- Jenny Lawson is freaking hilarious and will help all readers recognize that even the most dire of situations can be improved with a little perspective and a lot of levity.
I often find myself wanting to share quotes and little snippets with my husband, but I find myself compelled to play so many parts of this audiobook aloud that he really just needs to listen to it himself. Aside from the fact that I am sure he will find it absolutely hilarious, I think he will find solace in knowing that the author’s husband, Victor, has been dealing with someone just as crazy as me and seems to be doing just fine. 😉
Micah and Janie have been best friends since elementary school… Not that anyone would ever suspect, though, because their friendship has been one of their best-kept secrets. After all, Janie is one of the popular girls and Micah is a bit of a social outcast. They seem to be opposites in every way, but it “works” for them. I found it strange to see how confident Micah was that Janie would always be there for him even though he knew better than to even try to talk to her at school. Ack! Talk about a terrible friendship. I will say, though, that there are probably plenty of so-called friendships like this, since adolescents are often willing to compromise their own feelings and integrity for the sake of fitting in and/or feeling wanted. The biggest problem with this arrangement, nevertheless, was when Micah woke up in the hospital with no recollection of how or why Janie went missing. All he seemed to remember was a big party and a bonfire… But where did Janie go, and why won’t she even answer his texts?
I recommend this story to readers who enjoyed the Jennifer Hubbard’s The Secret Year, John Green’s Paper Towns, and E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. Though these stories are all unique, there is just a little something about Zhang’s characters, plot, and/or storytelling methodology that reminded me of these books.
Natasha is extremely practical. She believes in science and cold, hard facts. She knows that is it unlikely that she will be able to keep her family from being deported back to Jamaica now that her father’s DUI has alerted the authorities to their illegal status, but she also knows that she’s willing to hope and dream a little if it means that she might find a way for her family to stay in the US. Even though she has only about 12 hours left, she’s on her way to a meeting about a possible “fix”…
Daniel has always wanted to be more of a dreamer and a poet, but he has instead done his best to live up to the standards of a “good son” as laid out by his Korean-American [legal] immigrant parents. They expect him to go to Yale, to study to become a doctor, and to marry a good Korean girl so that he will never have to struggle as they once did. Even though he is not sure he really wants to go to Yale, he’s on his way to an interview with a Yale alum…
When Natasha and Daniel randomly meet in New York City, neither of them is out looking for love. A serious of seemingly random events — is it coincidence or fate? — brings them together, though. Daniel falls for Natasha pretty quickly, but her practicality has her thinking he’s just crazy. Although she doesn’t want to admit it at first, there *IS* something about Daniel that really speaks to her. So, does that mean Natasha will fall for Daniel too? Or will he end up heartbroken? Can Natasha find a way to stay in the US? Or will her family really have to leave in less than a day? Will Daniel get into Yale? And if he does, will he even go? This audiobook had me so anxious that I found it nearly impossible to shut off even when I had real-life responsibilities to tend to! I especially loved the fact that it was narrated by Natasha, Daniel, and the Universe — interspersed with narrations by some of the people they encounter throughout the day. Not only is it a great story for the hopeless romantic in us all, but it’s an amazing look at how people’s interactions with one another might seem insignificant at the time even though they make a big difference in the long run.
Stewart was a socially awkward prodigy who attended a school called Little Genius Academy and Ashley was a popular girl who excelled at fashion but wasn’t so great at school. You might think this is a perfect set-up for a story in which Stewart becomes Ashley’s tutor, but that definitely wasn’t how they met. They actually got to know one another because their parents decided to move in together. Ever since Stewart’s mom died of ovarian cancer, he and his father have been struggling with ways to manage their grief and honor her memory while also, somehow, moving on with their own lives. This move seemed to be the ultimate test. Ashley’s situation was very different, but still very traumatic for her — her parents decided to divorce because her father came out as gay. Though upset by her family breaking up, it seemed Ashley was even more concerned about what people would think if they found out the truth about why her parents divorced. After all, being the “it” girl of her crowd was pretty much all she thought she had going for her.
When Stewart and his father moved in with Ashley and her mom, Stewart also transferred into Ashley’s school. She was relieved to think that she would be “safe” from dealing with Stewart at school, even after finding out that he would be transferring from Little Genius Academy, because he was younger… But then he was placed in some ninth grade classes because he was so advanced. Trying to fit in at a new school was tough in and of itself, but it was made even more difficult by Ashley’s insistence that he hide the fact that they were now sort of related. I really enjoyed the emotional journey Nielsen provided. There were moments where I was so sad I nearly cried, times when I got angry with characters, moments where I found myself rolling my eyes, and others where I full-on chuckled. The geek in me also really appreciated the fact that Stewart’s cat was named Schrödinger and that Nielsen included a part in which Stewart explained the joke to Ashley, just in case readers didn’t get it.
P.S. Just in case there are any people considering this book for a younger teen/tween, I feel compelled to mention the fact that there are situations in which both underage drinking and sexual assault come up. I think it was very well written and offers a fantastic conversation starter, but I didn’t feel right not saying anything.
Abilene Tucker’s father, Gideon, sent her to live with an old friend for the summer, while he worked on the railroad. While she understood that life on the railroad was not suitable for a “young lady,” she knew she would miss her father terribly. Upon arrival, she was further disappointed to find that the town of Manifest was so dull. After growing up hearing so many stories about her father’s time in Manifest, she had expected it to be a grander and more exciting place. When Abilene found a hidden cigar box full of mementos, though, she found some of the adventure she had been hoping for. After all, there were even a few letters in the box that referenced a spy called “the Rattler.” When Abilene shared the letters with her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, they decided to work together to figure out who had been the Rattler… and then they received an anonymous note telling them to “Leave Well Enough Alone.” Yeah. Whoever wrote that note certainly didn’t understand that the surest way to get tween girls to work hard at solving a mystery was to basically forbid them to do so!
I liked the way Vanderpool wove together the stories of Abilene and her friends with the boys, Ned and Jinx, to whom the mementos in the box had belonged. It was very clever to reveal the past through both newspaper articles and “readings” of the mementos by the diviner, Miss Sadie. Not only did Miss Sadie’s storytelling help to provide details about Ned and Jinx that the girls could never have pieced together on their own, but it added a further layer of mystique as Abilene tried to figure out if Miss Sadie was truly “reading” the items or simply making up a story. I found it a bit painful to watch Abilene struggling to find any hint of Gideon’s existence in both Manifest and the stories Miss Sadie told, I liked the fact that readers are able to look back at the end of the story to see how the various story threads all truly came together. People who enjoy learning about the early 20th century will love the rich, historically accurate details. (Abilene came to Manifest in the 1930s and the stories of Ned and Jinx were from 1917-1918.)
Growing up in my family provided me with some very interesting insight into the Vietnam War. I was born in 1979 and completely missed “experiencing” the Vietnam War for myself, but my grandfather, Jim Cain, has been telling me stories about the Vietnam War for as long as I can remember. Although I didn’t realize it was a big deal until I reached my late-teens/early-twenties, I always knew Grampa had been a “Raven.” He would tell me stories about secret missions and being shot down in Vietnam, but I always kinda assumed he was playing it up and putting on a show for his grandkids. Yeah… I was wrong! As it turns out, the Ravens “were fighter pilots used for forward air control in a covert operation in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States in Laos during America’s Vietnam War [who] provided direction for most of the air strikes against communist Pathet Lao targets and People’s Army of Vietnam’s infiltrators in support of the Laotian Hmong guerrilla army.” (Check out http://ravenfac.com/ravens/Adventures/Episode0000.htm for more information about the Ravens – and a picture of my grampa!)
Despite the fact that her father was fighting in the Vietnam War, my mother was a tried and true “hippie” who protested the war. (Her parents actually found out, long after the fact, that she had attended an anti-war rally while they were stationed in England because of an old photo that was published in their local paper when Bill Clinton was running for president!) Some people would argue that she was less than patriotic for not supporting that war, but I don’t think opposing war makes anyone a bad American. Especially after listening to this story of how politicians sabotaged one another and actively prolonged this particular war to “save face” and further their own political agendas, I find it extremely difficult to even consider accepting war without considering all other possible avenues toward diplomacy. I am grateful to live in a country where citizens have the right to free speech and where freedom of the press works to keep citizens informed of what is going on behind the scenes. I never learned much about the “Pentagon Papers” in school, but this book had me riveted. I especially liked the fact that the afterword of this story referenced a more current “information leak” involving Edward Snowden and provided Daniel Ellsberg’s opinion on the matter. After what Ellsberg has been though, he is certainly someone whose opinion on the Snowden case is relevant.
The O’Sullivan brothers lived alone and did their best to get by, but it was tough having a dead father and an absentee mom (she took off with an orthodontist who didn’t seem to keen on having teen-aged step-sons). Sean had to put his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold to take care of his younger brother Finn; he worked as an EMT instead. Finn was an awkward boy whom the townspeople all seemed to talk/worry about, and Sean’s resentment was fairly evident. Then, one day, Finn found a girl in their barn. Roza was badly hurt, but she refused to go to the hospital, so Sean took her inside their house and did his best to mend her injuries. They decided to give Roza the keys to the unused apartment in the back of their house, and her presence seemed to help all three of them thrive… until the day Roza disappeared from Bone Gap.
Sean was heart-broken and Finn was devastated because he largely blamed himself. He swore that there was a man who took Roza away, but he couldn’t really describe the man other than the strange way he moved through the cornfields. He felt that if he could just do a better job at describing the man, he could save her. People in town had always called Finn names like “space man” because of he always seemed to lack focus and didn’t really look people in the eye. He also seemed to have a hard time recognizing people, though his vision was technically fine. The only person Finn seemed to get along with was a girl named Petey, whom most of the townspeople teased for being “ugly.” Petey believed Finn when he said that a man took Roza away, and she was determined to help him solve the mystery, but she was so self-conscious she couldn’t help but wonder if Finn was just pretending to like her.
I’m gonna be perfectly honest and admit that I actually had to start listening to this audiobook over again because I was about half way through and all sorts of confused. The book changes perspectives between Finn and Roza — as he looks for her and she deals with having been taken — and also goes back in time a bit, at times, to explain how everything came to be. I mean, I was doing chores like mowing the lawn and folding laundry, so it’s not like I was focused on something terribly exciting that took my attention away… But it was confusing enough that I really couldn’t go on without starting over. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I just figured it was worth mentioning in case any of y’all start to read/listen to this book and end up feeling confused, too. It was totally worth starting over again, in my opinion, so I would recommend doing the same if you also feel lost. Now that I “got” it, it was pretty awesome. If you like books with a touch of magical realism, like Belzhar, you should check this one out.