“Hunger: A Memoir of My Body” by Roxane Gay


asteriaiconI had heard about this novel on Book Riot, and started noticing it in paperback around town. Since Book Riot recommended it so highly, I picked it up, and was not disappointed.

Gay makes it evident right from the get go that this is not a life memoir, there will be no before and after pictures, and the book will provide no motivation for weight loss. It is simply an account of what her body has gone through.

At age 12, Gay was gang raped by a boy she thought she loved and his friends in an abandoned hunting cabin near town. He ignored her at school, but hung out with her afterwards, but only if she would do whatever he wanted. He treated her terribly, and made her feel that she should be grateful for his attention. After the rape, she was slut shamed at school. She withdrew further and further into herself, and ate and ate to create a fortress around herself as protection. She was ashamed and disgusted with herself to allow this horrible thing to happen to her, and felt she had to keep it a secret from her family.

By her late 20’s, Gay was a 6’3, 577lb woman. She visited a clinic to look into gastric bypass, and struggled with the decision to not get the surgery. After all, doctors are supposed to know what is best for us, and you want to follow their direction, but ultimately you have to do what is best for you. Gastric bypass offers such a seductive solution, but it “fixes” what our bodies look like, which people believe will solve all of their problems, not the problems themselves. Even the term ‘morbid obesity’ as described by Gay “frames fat people like we are the walking dead, and the medical establishment treats us accordingly”.

I found myself relating to Gay so strongly, and she told her story so candidly. She illustrates what it is like being a larger woman, how people see the size of your body before they even consider you, or how larger people survey a room full of people and measure themselves in comparison, to see who the largest in the room is and pray it isn’t you, or, how people make assumptions about your body, without knowing anything about you.

Gay turned to reading, finding it an escape where you can be anywhere than your life. She even read some of the same books as I did growing up, such as the Sweet Valley High series, and felt the same as I did. These books allowed her to live a life she was never going to live otherwise. She was never going to date the captain of the football team, never be popular, never be a petite blond, and I felt much the same way. Reading about it was an easy way to pretend that a better life was possible, one where a boyfriend and a large group of pretty friends existed.

I can’t pretend to understand where Gay comes from. I have never experienced rape or slut shaming, and I have not reached the same weight as her. But I feel like I understand her. I understand what it is like to look at seats and fear you won’t fit, and if you do, you fear every creak you hear and fear the seat might break. I understand how frustrating people’s comments can be, which can be well meaning and heartfelt, but unsolicited, as if I am not aware of my size (believe me it is something a larger woman is very acutely aware of!)

I loved how she called out our “cultural cruelty” to large people, how we are viewed and perceived and treated, and how inundated we are with commercials and weight loss problems, told that by losing weight all our problems will be solved and we can be treated like a normal part of society.  No wonder people fall into eating disorder behaviour. I was horrified to read how Gay researched eating disorders, and even became bulimic, finding tips online like drinking lots of water prior to a purge to make it easier, or to eat carrots prior to a binge because they act like a visual marker. It was utterly heart breaking!

When Gay went to boarding school, it was similar to university for me. Like her, I lost any ounce of control, eating myself to an all-time high weight, having access to never ending pop machines, a dining hall, and even a greasy spoon of a restaurant in the dorms. I loved eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Like her, I too threw myself into computers, and chatting with strangers on IRC was easier than living in the real world. There I wasn’t a dateless loser, I wasn’t so awkward, and I felt normal.

I think it is safe to say this is a book I would highly recommend. It was a fast read, but it was a story that needed to be told, and one that will stick with you. I loved knowing I wasn’t the only one who was so acutely aware of their size, felt the same, feared the same, dreamed the same. I admire her bravery, her candor, her honesty. Mostly, I am happy she has brought light to society’s bullshit views, and made me realize how to look past how society sees me and tries to change me, and really see and understand myself.

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“A Stranger in the House” by Shari Lapena


asteriaiconTom Krupp comes home from work to an empty house. His wife’s purse and phone are there, but Karen appears to have taken off in a hurry. Tom calls his neighbour, who is also Karen’s best friend, to see if she knew where his wife was. Then there is a sudden knock at the door, and a police officer is telling him that Karen has been in a car accident in the worst part of town and is currently in the hospital. Karen has no memory of what happened but it becomes apparent that she is a suspect in a murder that happened near the area she was in her accident. Was she fleeing from something or someone? When Karen gets home, and as she is increasingly being questioned by police, she becomes convinced someone has been in their house.

This was another fast read by the author of The Couple Next Door. She seems to be very good at writing about complex married couples. She makes you question how much you really know your spouse.

Sadly, though, this was another one where I guessed the ending, not the relationship of Karen to the murder victim, but the stranger in the house aspect. I saw it coming a mile away, which is always disappointing.

I found Tom weak and rather pathetic, and somewhat unbelievable. I found Karen unbelievable as well, and her true identity rather ridiculous. I read this book in a few hours, which in this case to me wasn’t a good sign. It had no real hook, no real captivating thing I just had to know, and found myself just reading along in hopes the story would get better, or a huge curve would appear. A curve did, but it was more of a winding meander rather than a huge jolt. The more I think about it, the more I feel it tried too hard to be the next “Gone Girl”, and sadly missed the mark.

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“Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie


asteriaiconOne day I was at one of my favorite stores in the city. It has a nice, quaint atmosphere, with used CD’s, vinyl, DVD’s, collectables, and of course books, and the staff are incredibly knowledgeable. As I was talking with my friend who runs the book section of the store, we got talking about Agatha Christie. I had never read Christie, and with the movie coming out for Murder on the Orient Express, I thought this would be a perfect time to give Christie a try.

I brought the book with me on a recent trip to Rome. It was a perfect book to take. It was a small, thin book that fit perfect in my purse, and I read it at the airport and in our hotel room before bed. It was a quick read, but I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the ending, how the clues all worked, and who the killer was.

The story follows Hercule Poirot, who is on a train heading to London, when the train is stopped due to a snow drift blocking the tracks. While stopped, a murder occurs in the cabin next to Poirot’s in the middle of the night. Poirot is now on the case, attempting to solve the murder while still on the train. He interviews all of the passengers, after all the killer has to be one of them. The victim, a man named Ratchett, is not a very nice man, and throughout the investigation, Poirot discovers Ratchett is using a fake identity, and there is a very good reason why someone would want him dead.

Poirot has an acute attention to detail, trying to interpret what clues were left behind, before the passengers get off the train in London, and potentially lost forever. Remember, this was written in 1934, so this is pre-cell phone era. There is no connection with the outside world, no help looking up information online, no one coming to save the day and make an arrest. Each character has their own unique personality, each is flawed, and each capable of murder.

As this was written over 80 years ago, the English was rather different than what we use today. I half expected to read the word “indubitably”, and was somewhat disappointed when I didn’t. As I said, somehow my mystery reading repertoire was missing Christie, which is a shame since she seems to be considered the Queen of mystery writing. This was the 10th novel in the Poirot series, but it read easily enough as a standalone.

For those that do not know the ending, and are okay with me ruining it, the killer does not turn out to be any one passenger on the train …but rather in fact it is ALL of the passengers on the train. Poirot is the only one not involved in the murder, and his appearance on the train was happenstance. Each guest was connected to the same family who experienced a tragedy in the United States at the hands of Ratchett.

For me, I was very disappointed and found the book to be much over-hyped.  I knew she was the Queen, but thought that was because the story was so well told, not because the ending, the who-dunnit, was so absurd and impossible to predict. True, I do like it when I can’t guess the ending, but I would still like it to be believable. Perhaps, in 1934, the likelihood of all of these characters being on one train was more probable than today. Regardless, I do not see myself picking up another Christie novel any time soon, and needless to say, I never made it to see the movie and am not really upset about it.

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“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” by Sherman Alexie


asteriaiconI was at a friend’s house one night, having pizza and wings, working on some crochet projects, and talking about books. I was telling her about The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and how much I enjoyed it, how much of an impact it had on me, and she said it sounds a lot like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I remember seeing this at the book store, and remember there was a little bit of controversy about it, but never really understood why, so when she asked if I wanted to borrow it, I jumped at the chance. Who better to give you a good book recommendation than a teacher!?

The story is a semi-autobiography about a boy named Arnold Junior, who lives on the Spokane Indian Reserve. Junior has been teased his whole life for being different. He has a complicated medical history, which ultimately makes him an easy target to be picked on and bullied. He has no real friends, save for Rowdy, who is probably the only reason he is still alive. His family consists of an alcoholic father, a mother who used to be an alcoholic and now will not touch it, and a sister who does not come out of the basement, and they are incredibly poor. Junior lives on a reserve where alcoholism is rampant, and he has seen it claim the lives of too many of its residents. One day at school he gets so angry after getting a text book with his mother’s name written in it, and he throws the book, hitting his teacher. This earns him a suspension of school, and a visit from the teacher, telling him he can be more than this and encourages him to leave the reserve. So he does. Junior decides to go to the white kid’s high school just outside of the reserve, where he is the only Indian student. His tribe is offended by his decision, and label him a traitor. So every day Junior has to go to a white school and act white, and then go home to the reservation and act like an Indian.  But he is determined to succeed, and to make a true life for himself, even if he has never really been given any chance to succeed. He has dreams, just like everyone else, and he will stop at nothing to achieve them.

I live in a city where we have 2 reserves close by, and I can still tell you I knew very very little of what life is like on either of them. I knew that the kids were bused into school either at the edge of the city or at another high school close by in a small town. I knew that they had a status card that allowed them to not have to pay PST tax on any of their purchases. And that is it. I know OF the stereotypes that exist around the natives in our area, and I have mentioned before how much I hate stereotypes.

But I had really no idea what life was truly like on the reserve. This was truly an eye opener for me. After reading this I felt so sad, and so ashamed to not know what was happening so close to home. I asked my friend after reading this if this was a really genuinely true depiction, and she assured me it was, which really brought tears to my eyes. I think I was so moved by The Hate U Give because I knew of what life was like in the ghetto area from movies and such, and it was so sad and unfortunate to read about kids who grow up in such conditions and feel that they have no choice but to follow those paths and live those lives. But this. This was so different. I think I honestly thought the stereotypes where just bullshit. Like you know they exist but that you can’t paint everyone with that brush, that they really were somewhat well funded by government, that they had opportunities other kids did not have because of their status, and I am so ashamed to be so wrong and so narrow minded.

The book was a fast read, and was riddled with drawings which made reading go a lot faster. But make no mistake. This may be a book with under 250 pages, but it packs one hell of a punch. The writing balanced so perfectly the struggle between sadness and humour, it was so elegant and so captivating. I have even picked up the book to read a second time before I give the book back to my friend! I have read that this is still one of the most challenged books in North America. Yes, there is talk about masturbation on ONE page, and yes, there is a little profanity. I have also read that some people viewed it as “anti-Christian”, which I did not find at all. I believe this is a book that should become a mandatory read in school. I believe this is a book that everyone should read regardless of age. The message of dreaming big and setting your mind to succeed and following through on your dreams comes loud and clear. So thank you my dear friend and fellow book lover for such a wonderful recommendation, and for opening my eyes to the world literally around me. I certainly hope to read more books by Sherman Alexie in the future!

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“Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell


asteriaiconThis book was on my radar for quite a long time. I have heard great things about it, and enjoyed Eleanor and Park by the same author, so I decided since I am on a YA kick it was the perfect time to pick this up.

Cath loves fanfiction. She is a Simon Snow fan, and loves writing fanfiction about the characters, and has a huge online following. It was something she shared with her twin sister Wren, but while Wren has grown away from it, Cath just can’t seem to let it go. Cath and Wren are now in their first year of college, and everything is different. Wren feels college is a time for new experiences, and does not want to room with her. Cath’s new roommate Reagan is a little abrasive, and her maybe boyfriend Levi is always hanging around. Her classes are not going as expected, and the crush she has on one of her classmates just does not seem to be going anywhere. As Cath struggles with everything going on, her sister is partying a little too often and her dad is struggling mentally with work and having an empty nest. Cath throws herself into her fanfiction rather than her homework as a way to cope with everything going on around her.

I really enjoyed Cath’s character. As a socially awkward introvert, I understand her desire to hole up in her room with fictional characters and protein bars. I enjoyed the friendship Cath and Reagan created, and it reminded me a lot of being in university. I liked reading about a teacher who is so invested with the success of her student, and I remembered having a few of those rare and amazing teachers in school. I found Cath’s awkward relationship with Levi lovely, and it made me appreciate my fiancé just a little bit more.

I had a few criticisms. One was the character of Nick. I was as confused as Cath was trying to understand their relationship and what he brought to the story. He seemed so interested in her, but was really just using her (which I understood), but I didn’t understand his reappearance at the end. I appreciated the love the character had for fanfiction, and understood that as her fanfic was blazing towards its ending, so too was Cath’s story, but I really didn’t find the written aspect into the story relevant. I found I skipped the fanfiction parts entirely. I appreciated the story behind what happened to their mother, but found the reappearance of her rather irrelevant as well. I found the only thing that it did was illustrate how good the girl’s boyfriends were, which could have been done in other ways.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed this book. I liked that Simon Snow was a very thinly veiled Harry Potter, mainly because as an HP fan I get how strong the love for it can be. I enjoyed reading about the friendships made during that first tumultuous year of college, and could have read about Cath and Levi forever. I did not feel it was as good as Eleanor and Park, but it was still a nice story and one I would recommend giving a try, especially if you appreciate fanfiction!

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“Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet” by Joanne Proulx


asteriaiconThis was another one of those books I had read that was going into movie this year, so I picked it up at the local library as well. The author is a female from Canada, and I always like to try to support Canadian female authors.

Luke Hunter is a pothead teen hanging out with his pothead friends one night when he foretells the death of one of the boys. “Tomorrow morning at 8:37am. The red van with the out-of-state plates? You go head to head. You lose. You die.” Luke even knows the license plate number (BLU 369). The next day as he is heading to school on his skateboard, he is knocked off his feet by a strange feeling, the feeling of his friend Stan passing through him…at 8:37am. Luke becomes a sensation in town as the boy psychic who can foretell death, and he tries desperately to keep everyone at an arm’s length until he can understand what is happening to him.

I liked the idea of this book more than I liked the actual book itself. I wanted to like this, I really did, and I read the entire book hoping it would get better. I found the idea intriguing. It started as a boy who predicted a few people’s death, and then it turned out to be…not about that.

Luke wasn’t an overly likeable character. He talks a lot about drugs and boobs and it just felt…forced and unrealistic. He has this interesting “power” and then it sort of disappears for a long time. He seems to go out of his way to be a dick, which just isn’t a character I could relate to. He even sleeps with a girl he thought was dead…twice…but has a huge crush on a girl who happens to be his dead friend’s girlfriend. It is just weird and hard to really understand the character’s logic there.

There were other things that bothered me too. There was repeated mention of an uncle with maybe the same power that he has, but we never really meet him, and that part of the story seems to go nowhere. The story seems to jump all over to me and it never picked up the momentum it started with. The story seemed to have a homophobic undertone, which bothered me, and a Christian tone, which also bothered me, but then a character turns out to be gay and the people who were Christian were weird and then everything is fine? It just didn’t seem to make sense to me.

It just wasn’t very strong, it had no character I really liked (other than maybe Fang, the best friend), and it fell sort of flat to me. The highlight for me was references to 90’s and early 2000’s music, which was a flashback for me to music I enjoy. Overall, I have to say I didn’t really enjoy the book no matter how hard I tried, and this will be a movie I will probably skip this year.

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“Simon VS The Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli


asteriaiconWhen I was looking up One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus online, I found a few other books that were going to movie this year, and this was one of them. I thought the premise sounded promising, so I picked it up at the local library.

Simon is a 16 year old boy who happens to be gay. He has tried to hide it from his friends and family, but an email is accidentally read by the wrong person, and Simon’s secret is used against him as blackmail. Simon has been emailing someone named Blue, another gay boy who goes to school with him, but is not ready to come out just yet. As Simon’s life gets more complicated with his blackmailer and his friends, he falls more and more for Blue.

I wish I could put into words how much I loved this book. I am not one for romance books or cutesy stories, but this was just a lovely feel good love story about a boy falling in love! I loved the sweet emails back and forth between Simon and Blue! I devoured this book in an afternoon, and found myself smiling through the whole thing, and laughing openly at Simon’s humour. I was so caught up in the secret of who Blue was, and was thrilled when I found I had guessed his identity correctly! The fact that Simon was a Harry Potter fan was an added bonus for me. I think this is the first book I have read where the lead character is gay, not a co-lead character or a side character, and it has earned a very special place in my heart as such a lovely cutesy feel good sweet romance. It makes me remember falling in love the first time, and things I felt when I was falling in love with my fiancé. All those sweet, warm and cuddly feelings all flooded back in a beautiful way.

Simon is just so damn likeable. He is so sweet, honest, and has a great sense of humour. Yes, he can be a terrible friend, but not purposely, and he does realize his mistakes and makes amends for them.

I have watched the trailer for this movie a good dozen times, and I am just so so excited to see it!! Just watching Nick Robinson as Simon brings a huge smile to my face, and I think he will bring this amazing character alive on the big screen! If you are just looking for a light, feel good, make you smile, amazingly heartwarming love story, PICK THIS UP!! READ IT!! TWICE!! I have every intention of purchasing this book for my collection, and reading it again and again, and let’s be honest, I will probably do the same with the movie!

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