Tag Archive | family dynamics

Review : The Things That Keep Us Here

The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley
Pages : 404
Genre : Speculative Fiction
Series : Stand Alone
My Rating :

What it’s about :

When a virulent pandemic comes to America from across the sea, Ann and Peter Brooks are ready to do anything to protect their children. Even though they recently split up, they decide to move back together, with the addition of Peter’s beautiful assistant. Thus begins a life in constant fear, the sickness taking the lives of 50% of those who contract it. Soon there is no electricity, food is scarce and the cold winter weather is more menacing than ever before.

My Thoughts :

About two years ago (how time flies by!), I was a bit disappointed when I read In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke. Both the plot and the characters felt a bit like empty shells, and while I was intrigued enough to go through the book, I felt I had more bad than good to say about it.

Fortunately, where In a Perfect World failed me, The Things That Keep Us Here gave me a lot more answers. It would be impossible not to compare the two with such similar premises, but without a doubt, I found Buckley’s novel to be a much more realistic experience.

A great strength in Buckley’s novel is how human her story is. I find that family dynamics are always interesting to explore, and mixing this imperfect family with such a terrifying setting really brought something more to this kind of story. Buckley really focused on the characters and what they lived through, and I found them to be really well fleshed out. Ann, the main protagonist, has a story of her own that starts way before the pandemic and gives a lot of sense to her actions. Even though I’ve never been in her situation, past or present, I could relate to her feelings and sympathize with her – even though, on one specific aspect, I found her to be particularly naive, especially when a simple question would have made everything clear… As for the kids, they were acting like I would imagine kids in such a difficult time.

There’s also enough science in the book to explain what is going on, without it being too heavy on the non-scientific readers like me. I don’t know how much truth there is to the way Buckley developed it, but to this reader, it made enough sense to be believable. The fact that Peter himself was a scientist was also a great touch, since he knew better than anyone what to expect. This made things sometimes easier, sometimes more difficult for his family.

In the end, The Things That Keep Us Here was a good read that also gave a lot to think about. And I love that the cover is not only beautiful, but also very representative of the story.

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Review : Because I am Furniture

Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas
Pages : 352
Genre : YA, asbuse, in verse
Stand alone
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Anke only wishes she could, once in her life, be seen and heard. Praying on the weak, her father is abusive to everyone in her family ; her mother, her brother, her sister. Everyone, but her. She’s invisible to her father, nothing worth getting happy or angry about. While her family is busy pretending nothing is wrong, Anke will do what she can to be more than furniture – and maybe, in the process, save her family.

My Thoughts :

I’ve never been really fond of books written in verses, as my previous experiences with this type of books has left me particularly disappointed. Because I am Furniture appealed to me more for its subject than for its style, but in the end, I found Chaltas’ writing perfect for the story.

Anke’s story is a dark, depressing story better left for days when you don’t need to be cheered up. Her father’s abuse is constant, scary, unpredictable, and it seems she’s to only one in her familly willing to acknowledge that something is really wrong. And yet, her feelings are complex : because her father has never been anything but violent, she associates his behavior with attention, and wonders why doesn’t he pay more attention to her? Why is she nothing more than furniture in his eyes?

Dinner.

He knocked Darren onto the linoleum.

I don’t remember his arm swing,
Just Darren and his chair –
eight tangled limbs on the floor.

No reason that I could see.

But my father picked up his reasons and his plate and went
to eat
in the living room.

Darren picked up his chair and himself and we are now eating
in customary ice-age silence.

(p. 5)

Chaltas uses very few words to describe Anke’s journey and I found that it was just fine this way. There wasn’t more needed, really. Everything was there : Anke’s envy, anger, sadness. But it’s also a story about confidence and strength. Past her jealousy for the attention she wants to receive, Anke also sees that something is wrong with her family. Between school, friends, volleyball practice and life at home, she builds herself up and gains a confidence like no one else in her family has yet.

Some reads aren’t easy and Because I am Furniture was definitely part of that category, but I appreciated Chaltas’ writing and how close to the emotions she came with so few words. I would happily read more from her, and this book has even reconciled me with the idea of novels written in verse.

Review : Fixing Delilah

Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler
Pages : 308
Genre : YA, Fiction
Stand Alone
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Delilah’s life has had more downs than ups recently. Her grades are down, she’s been caught stealing (accidentally, is what she’ll tell you), she has a non-boyfriend who barely cares about her and her friends aren’t really her friends anymore. To top it off, the close relationship she once had with her mother is a thing of the past.

It’s also been eight years since Delilah’s mom has seen or talked to Delilah’s grand-mother for the last time, and Delilah still has no idea why. When Delilah’s grand-mother dies, the two women finds themselves in Vermont for the summer, facing the past and its secrets.

My Thoughts :

Last year I read and reviewed Sarah Ockler’s debut novel, Twenty Boy Summer, and fell so completely in love with it that there was no doubt in my mind that I would read Ockler’s next novel. I bought my copy of Fixing Delilah when it got out, and tried many times to read it without really getting into it. Then last week I picked it up and surprisingly, found myself unable to put it down. As it turned out, Fixing Delilah wasn’t as emotional a read as Twenty Boy Summer had been, but the story kept me reading all the way through.

The novel is, before anything, about family. It’s also about love and friendship, but family is the central theme. Delilah spends a lot of time with her mother and aunt, and when she isn’t, she spends most of her time thinking or talking about what happened eight years ago. Delilah feels, rightly so, that the events that divided them from her grand-mother are central to who she is now, but also to the changes in her relationship with her mom.

I loved the way Ockler used the past to create complex characters. Delilah’s mom isn’t really likable in the start, but as we learn what happened in her past, it’s easier to forgive her. The family’s story isn’t about one single event, either; there’s the fight that broke everything eight years ago, but there’s also the story of Stephanie, an aunt Delilah never got to know, or the mystery of her grand-mother’s weird attitude. All of these things work together to create the family’s identity, and though I guessed part of what happened before the end, I was never completely sure.

As for the romance and friendships, they were cute without standing out. Delilah’s love interest was adorable, but in a way that made him a little bland, if that makes sense. The author described the connection they had but I didn’t really feel it. I guess it balanced all the family drama, but I would have loved for Patrick to be a bit less two-dimensional.

All in all, without being the most memorable story, Fixing Delilah was a good YA contemporary fiction. I enjoyed Ockler’s writing and I’m hoping we’ll read more from her in a close future.

Review : The Nature of Jade

The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti
Pages : 288
Genre : YA, Fiction
Stand Alone
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Living with a panic disorder for a couple years now, Jade does her best to live a normal life. To keep her calm, she spends a lot of her time watching the zoo’s elephants, on place but also from her computer at home.

One day, Jade notices a boy her age with a young child visiting the elephants, and their friendship is immediate. They understand each other, and Jade soon finds herself spending much of her time if not with him, at least thinking about him. Between Sebastian’s secrets and her own family issues, Jade’s life is about to be turned upside down.

My Thoughts :

I wasn’t aware of how much I enjoyed The Nature of Jade until I turned the last page and felt disappointed that it was over. It was a good ending, but I would easily have read more of Jade’s story. Caletti’s writing was just really easy to slip into, and Jade was an interesting character.

As someone living with a panic disorder, I could understand what Jade was living through but also admire the talent with which Caletti described Jade’s problem. I don’t know if a reader who hasn’t experienced this before would react the same way, but personally, Jade’s description of her first panic attack was so well written that I immediately thought of how similar to mine it was. My experience is that panic attacks are extremely difficult to understand for someone who hasn’t been through them, but in this case, I felt the author portrayed them really well.

What I appreciated of all this though, was how Jade’s story wasn’t really about her disorder. It is mentioned often, yes, and it does define some of her actions; but mainly, this is the story of Jade and Sebastian meeting, and her disorder is only a condition they have to deal with, like Jade’s family or Sebastian’s secrets. Jade isn’t her illness, and it is made really clear from the start as Jade explains her situation quickly so we can move on to more interesting things.

While I loved Jade, I felt a bit underwhelmed towards Sebastian. Maybe because he kept so much for himself, I couldn’t connect with him. I did connect with Jade’s family though, which I thought was a much more important piece of the story than the book’s summary (or mine) would suggest. Jade’s relationship with her brother was one of my favorite things –  that and the elephants, of course! 🙂

Review : The Weird Sisters

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
Pages : 320
Genre : Fiction
Stand Alone
My Rating :

What it’s about :

The Andreas sisters have each had their lot of bad luck. When Rose, Bean and Cordy all find themselves at a crossroads of their lives, hoping for something better, their mother’s cancer bring them back home. There they confront their present and their past, as well as their personal relationships with each other.

My Thoughts :

What I want to say is that The Weird Sisters was a lovely read, though I fear it won’t convey my exact feeling of the novel. It was more than lovely, really, and Brown’s writing was one I enjoyed from the first word to the last.

It’s been a while since I have read a novel exploring the dynamics of sisters relationships in such a realistic way! And what’s fascinating is that, even for the reader who doesn’t have a sister, I believe it is easy to relate to the characters. There’s a mix between them of envy and love, admiration and competitiveness, all at the same time, that portrays quite eloquently the complexity of relationships. I think we all have felt these mixed emotions at one time in our lives, if not for a sister maybe for a friend.

Readers who enjoy books about books will find their joy in this novel, too. The sisters’ father, a professor of Shakespeare who named his daughters accordingly, is a strong presence in the book, even though we don’t see that much of him. His influence is everywhere, from the plays the sisters would organize as kids to the books they pick when they get a few minutes for themselves.

I’ll admit I was a bit confused by the voice at first. It’s a first-person plural narration, which means you never really know who’s saying what, exactly. But once I got used to it, I felt it really made sense with the story, the sisters being so linked together that their bond is, in a way, telling their story. It conveyed strongly the emotions, from tragedy to comedy, and I couldn’t have asked for more.

This was such a delectable read, even more than I thought so after reading the last page. The sisters were surprisingly present for a while in my mind, and in the end I think I can easily say The Weird Sisters was one of my favorite reads of 2011.