The Careful Undressing of Love

The Careful Undressing of LoveThe Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beware, here there be spoilers.

There is so much to love in this book. I love how aware of itself it is, how Lorna points out the casual racism in Brooklyn that meets the Devonnaire Street Girls. The language is so so beautiful (I drew pink hearts next to all my favourite sections, and there are a lot of hearts). I adore how the prose weaves in and out of the past, how memories break into the present moment and color the reader’s understanding of the current events (like Lorna and her father’s conversation on page 95, with the conversation abut measuring love, or like all the other memories of Lorna’s father).

Throughout most of this book, I was screaming, “But what about the girls that don’t fall in love with boys?!” Aka, any girl who isn’t straight. And then the book addressed it. I feel mostly positive toward its portrayal of gay girls. What bothers me about it is how she was forced to closet herself, to “sacrifice,” but that’s more an issue with the toxic Devonnaire Street culture than it is with the story itself.

But that’s a perfect segue into my other nitpick with this story, and that’s Angelika, and the way she controlled the entire street. I thought the way Angelika acted was emotionally abusive, the way she slut-shamed the girls, policed their bodies and their agency, enforced the gender binary, and employed her racist views when choosing their clothes. Even though she thought she was justified, she psychologically tortured them and terrified them for this entire book, and it was cruel. And no one ever called her on it, even in the end, when it was pretty obvious that the Curse wasn’t real and her propaganda had killed a girl. The young women on this street were so damaged by this culture around them, and not once until the very end (until it was too late for one of them) did a logical adult step in to remove Angelika’s influence. I thought that was a little unsatisfying, but I suppose it could argued that it’s realistic; abusers don’t always get punished. (But I want them to!)

(Also, the press was so gross in this book. Can they just not sensationalize the tragedy of these girls’ lives?)

Overall, I liked the ending. I wanted Angelika to get punished, but it was beautiful that it was Lorna’s mom’s love for her daughter that ultimately saved them both, got them free of Devonnaire Street and let them have a fresh start. Especially since it was clear that they did both have people they loved romantically, but for their own good, and because they loved each other, they left them both behind.

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Keep Swimming, For Someday You Will Reach The Shore

It Ends with UsIt Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was not the kind of book I would naturally gravitate toward, and I think part of that is my preconception of it as a straight-up romance novel, which it is not. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that romance is present, but this is absolutely about Lily and her personal journey, her hardships and getting through it, and for me, that made all the difference.

Lily’s relationships with Atlas and Ryle are definitely present within the book, but to me, the most stand-out relationships were Lily’s relationships with other women in her life. Her friendship with Allysa was so pure, so selfless. It warms my heart that they each have such heartfelt well wishes for the other. And Lily and her mom, Jenny — that was another lovely relationship. It may have begun in a place of resentment and low-key antagonism, but the growth they experienced by the end was beautiful. Also, the Ellen DeGeneres letters were ❤

This is a book I think everyone should read, despite their genre preconceptions, because the central theme — which is basically that we aren’t always very sympathetic to people in Lily’s situation — is one that everyone can appreciate.

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A Book For Our Times

Our Hearts Will Burn Us DownOur Hearts Will Burn Us Down by Anne Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every once in a while, I come across a book that hits the perfect note between “I have something to say” and “I have a story to tell.” This was one of those books. The inescapable thought I had while reading was that this school shooting is not unique. This shooter is not unique. In America, there’s a new incident every week. If we’re lucky enough not to be touched directly by these events, we go numb after a while out of self-preservation. This book rips the Novacaine from our hands and asks us to confront the reality of the lives lost, because these characters and their experiences are not abstract. Everything in here is brutally real, even the more supernatural elements.

This book is not easily categorizable by any means, with genre or otherwise. In speaking with the author, the word that came up was “intangibility,” and that sounds right. The book is concerned the power of intangible emotions, namely intense grief, and the horrific effects of bottling up such emotions, writ large. Within the first few pages, it becomes clear that the memory of the shooting never leaves these characters, and it’s confirmed again in the beautiful final chapters, where our narrators say they’ve tried to forget and move on, move away, and haven’t entirely succeeded. The first-person plural voice was especially striking. It felt like the voice of a community as a whole, struggling to heal in the midst of further tragedies.

Though I’ve had days to gather my thoughts, I’m still a little at a loss for how to articulate it. It was beautiful and resonant and exactly the book I believe everyone should read. Yes, it’s hard and intense and I definitely cried several times, but it also served to wake me up and remind me that mass violence is not a problem for tomorrow, but today.

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A Fresh Angle and All That

A Corner of White (The Colors of Madeleine, #1)A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD. And now that you’ve been warned, on with the review! So, as a YA fiction enthusiast who is also tired of tropes, this is the fantasy book I’ve been waiting for. There has never been a book I’ve more wanted on my bookshelf. There was such an original plot. It was so beautifully written. Everyone in this book lives in a dream world, dreaming that they’re Lord Byron or Isaac Newton and dreaming about colours and Colors and missing fathers and swan-mothers. Some lines I love:

“When Jack cast his gaze over Madeleine’s former life he caught glimpses of sails swelling in gusts of winds, reindeer stamping and breathing mist, diamonds woven through plaits and spilling like raindrops down a window.”

“Jack had gathered the names together by the stems; he’d arranged them in a vase that he kept to the right of his mind. At night, before he fell asleep, he’d breathe in the fragrance of each, the details that Madeleine had shared.”

“a whole bubbling brook sort of name”

“What hinders the fixt stars from falling upon one another?… She had to stop the stars from tumbling together… A sky full of stars was relying on her to keep her back straight, her shoulders firm, her head nodding now and then, her voice calm and polite… because as long as she did that, her mother would be okay… All she had to do was keep the stars fixed to the sky.”

“The thing is, Elliott, you were like a piece of magic. You held the fixed stars in place for me and you stopped them from falling. If I open another letter from you, I think they might start to tumble.”

There is this really clever extended metaphor revolving around Isaac Newton, Lord Byron, and Ada Lovelace, and how their lives parallel the lives of Madeleine, Jack, and Belle. What starts out as an annoying school assignment becomes this heartbreaking condemnation when Madeleine starts recognizing the cracks in her own worldview, realizing that her father is not some glittery hero and her mother is not a lost swan in a tower.

I also really appreciate how the romance was handled in here, mostly Madeleine and Jack’s relationship. In general, I am not a fan of romance in YA novels because nothing feels original anymore, nor does it ever feel realistic, or it will takes over the actual plot. What made this feel fresh was how both Madeleine and Jack both accepted that they worked better as friends at the end of the book. The power of Madeleine’s journey is that once she “wakes up,” she sees that Jack is remarkable just as he is, a teenage boy in Cambridge, her friend. Elliott and Kala’s relationship was tolerable for me. It felt very sentimental at times, but the burst of clarity from Elliot’s perspective injected some much-needed realism into their relationship. Elliott realizes that his feelings for Kala don’t make either of them as wonderful or perfect as they see each other; or else, how could he have cheated on her? It seemed a healthier alternative to seeing each other as perfect.

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“Flipper-Footing”

The Brides of Rollrock IslandThe Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Low-key spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

After a few recent disappointments, it was so refreshing to read a book like this. The language was so lovely and I adore how new words are constructed. Listen to this — “when they had found flipper-footing they began to gallop toward me, as sheep hurry over their snowy field to a fresh-dropped hay bale, or pigs cross a sty at the clink of a slop bucket.” Flipper-footing. I have a new favourite word.

I had before never ventured into the realm of selkie fantasy fiction, but I’m glad to start here. Lanagan really captured the silent heartbreak of tearing these seal-women from the sea, the injustice and the cruelty of it. Frankly, by the end of this book, I would’ve quite happy to stand around with Miskaella and Trudle and watch the men stay miserable. Having stolen wives for at least two generations (my math is probably not up to snuff), I thought they deserved all the misery they got. But maybe I’m just being very uncharitable.

The book certainly did a good job of illustrating what an unhealthy love looks like, because none of these marriages, save that of Dominick’s mam and dad, were healthy. Misskaella enchanted the men and trapped the women; the men could not look beyond themselves enough to set their wives free; the seal-women loved their husbands but loved the sea more.

The seal-wives were extremely docile for much of the book; stealing their skins seemed to sap them of the spirit to protest their circumstances. That was frustrating, especially since only Daniel seemed to have the guts to release them. However, the seal-women found strength enough to do what was needed to escape and protect their children.

I also appreciate the glimmer of hope there at the end, with Lory and Daniel’s second meeting, him smiling. While slightly contrived, it was refreshing, like two souls breaking out of the shadows of the last generation. And Trudle… I didn’t expect to ever like her, but the final chapter from her perspective was so moving. I was happy that she was content as the island revived around her, that she discovered the last of Misskaella’s secrets.

All in all, a lovely read and one I’m proud to have on my bookshelf.

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A Gem on my Bookshelf

The Accident SeasonThe Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD. Okay, now you’ve been warned. This book was beautifully written. As another reviewer pointed out, the magical realism and even the prose reminded me of Nova Ren Suma, particularly her Imaginary Girls. The language was so lovely, so much like poetry. From a craft standpoint, I loved the construction of some of these sentences — the repetition, the way certain sentences fall like stones in a pond, the cold delivery of magical lines. Some stand-out lines:

“Alice wasn’t the first to jump, but she was the first to fall. It started with dares. Dare you to roll down the hill. Dare you to touch a nettle. Dare you to jump across the stream.”

“So let’s raise our glasses to the accident season, / to the river beneath us where we sink our souls, / to the bruises and secrets, to the ghosts in the ceiling, / one more drink for the watery road.”

“His mask is askew. Nick’s wolf face is on the ground in front of me. Its eyes are empty sockets. It has no mouth but it is still whispering: if you’re going to do this just give me one last chance you know you want to come on if you really want to end it you owe it to me just give me one last—”

“I am wet to the skin, I am shivering and my wings are shaking. I am cold stone behind my mask. I might not be human at all.”

“I remember a slap across my cheek in a hallway; I remember hands on my shoulders pushing me down, keeping me underwater; I remember being told to forget.”

This book perfectly straddled the line between our reality and magical realism. The accident season was the overwhelming shadow that hung over the entire book, but as you read, you start to get the sense that the accident season is an illusion that Cara’s family believes so that they don’t have to face the truth. Slowly over the course of the book, it becomes clear that something awful happened in their family, and no one can talk about it. The metal man with the evil smirk and Cara’s memories of almost drowning and being slapped as a child and Alice being “bundled up warmer than October every summer, afraid of showing her body.”

Cara’s blindness plays out in a similar way. At the start of the book, there’s the sense that she’s not seeing the world for all his ugliness, that she can’t face it, and it hits like a hammer when you realize she doesn’t see, doesn’t remember the ugliness of her childhood because her sister’s abuser told her to forget or he’d hurt her, and what else can a child do but forget when faced with an adult trying to drown them. When Cara starts to see, the horrible puzzle pieces start to come together, how Nick is hitting Alice and she takes it because she’s been miserable for so long, she doesn’t know any other way to live, she stays with him because at least this is the pain she chooses rather than the pain someone more powerful inflicted on her as a child.

“I laugh at the accident season, at the accident of Alice hitting her head on Nick’s mantelpiece, at the accident of the bruises on her legs, at the accident of the cuts on her arms. I laugh at the accident of the broken glass a few years ago that somehow managed to slice her wrist in a perfectly straight line. I laugh at the accident of Sam punching the wall in the secrets room. I laugh at the accident of the day I almost drowned. I laugh at the accident of my uncle’s death. Seth knew too, I think. That’s why he pushed him in… I stop laughing.”

I don’t know what else I can say. This book is a trip, but every heart-wrenching moment came together perfectly. The fact that not everything can be explained away at the end was lovely. The mystery of Elsie, their little guardian angel. The magical costume shop and the ghost house that listens to Cara’s wishes.

Just read it.

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