Category Archives: lady friendships

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

IMG_8396This is a book that I definitely judged by its cover, adding it to my list before a fuller blurb was even attached to the novel. I mean, just look at how beautiful the cover of Emergency Contact is! I’m happy that the cover persuaded me to fall into this lil’ book that the author, Mary H. K. Choi, described as a book where “high-key nothing happens.” But SO MUCH does happen within the pages of this YA novel that I think I’ll reread it a few times in my life.

Instead of having a linear story with a clear beginning, middle, and end with a nice resolution, this book read to me like an in depth character study of the two main narrators: Penny, a Korean teen who is desperate to escape her wannabe BFF mom when she flees to university, and Sam, a white young adult who is trying to navigate his goals and aspirations whilst having limited resources and a shoddy support system. 

A lot of this book feels like a lil’ love letter to Austin, TX, a place that is lodged fondly in my heart. For most of the book, Penny is learning how to live away from her mother, is struggling with her first writing course (this book features lots of built in lessons for aspiring writers) as she tries to determine how to weave the best science fiction tales, and learning how to make friends with her roommate and her emergency contact, Sam. Sam is mostly working in a bakery and coffee shop as he tries to get his life back on track, and figure out what that track even is, after a bit of a detour. I loved being immersed into these character’s minds as they interacted with each other and their own lives. Sometimes, pieces of the book felt like streams of consciousness, with surprising bits discovered along the way. Head’s up: Emergency Contact does feature a detailed description of a sexual assault that caught me completely off guard, mirroring the way one is typically not expecting to hear a similar story of a friend when they initially share that a similar, horrible thing has happened to them. It was moving, well-written, and a helpful text for readers to have as they shape their understanding of what sexual assault is, but if that is a topic that is difficult to read for you, it may be best to skip this book. 

All in all, if you enjoy movies where little revelations about the characters are made along the way and the journey alone is satisfying to you without having a bow-tied final scene, you’ll enjoy this book. If the idea of that makes you want to run away, skip this book.

Publication Date: 27 March 2018 by Simon and SchusterFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Mary H. K. Choi web/@twitter/@instagram

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Chemistry by Weike Wang

image1 (4)As someone currently stumbling through a PhD program, I was delighted to read a book about a character tripping, falling, and removing themselves from similar circumstances. PhD programs are super weird and demanding in different ways that are hard to explain to people who haven’t pursued one so I gobble up opportunities to hear about experiences, even fictional, navigating the strange world of PhDs. 

Chemistry by Weike Wang is almost like a diary/stream of consciousness of the main, unnamed character. She’s in a Chemistry PhD program, which are known to be notoriously demanding because of time required to be physically present in a lab to run experiments, and she’s completely flailing. Some of the “chapters” are simply written with thoughts that sometimes seem half-formed, as if they are the real thoughts of someone who is feeling quite a bit lost and not sure of where to turn next. 

The main character has Chinese parents who are no longer in the U.S. and their extreme expectations for the main character highlight her struggle between the “American dream” and her parents’ evaluation of what it means to succeed in America. This is juxtaposed with her white, American boyfriend’s comparatively easy experience of success because he isn’t simultaneously struggling to barely meet his parents’ expectations of all of the things they perceive he should also be accomplishing.  Most of the struggle in this book is related to the main character’s  parents’ expectations and demands not aligning with what would ultimately help her reach personal and professional happiness and the juxtaposition of the ease of her boyfriend to excel through the same program. 

Some readers may wish that this had more depth, but I enjoyed the brevity! There are some beautiful little bits (the deer metaphor was my favorite!) that are sandwiched in here that would be easy to miss if you were speed reading. I suspect that enjoyment of this book might be limited to those familiar with PhD programs or those interested in the family dynamics. If either of those sound like stories you want to read, scoop this up!

Publication Date: 23 May 2017 by Knopf PublishingFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Weike Wang bio

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

turtlesallthewaydownAcquiring Turtles All the Way Down by John Green was a bit of magical experience. While I don’t think we’ll ever have a book as demand as the Harry Potter series, encouraging midnight release parties and the like, the demand for Green’s latest novel was pretty high and the text was highly protected, no Advance Reader’s Copies or anything. Despite the publisher enacting a veil of secrecy around the book, I somehow found it accidentally on the shelf of a big box retailer a weekend before its release date. Of course I snatched it up, especially because I knew I shouldn’t have been able to procure it. Both my boyfriend and I had been eagerly anticipating this book and because I brought into both of our lives before the rest of the world got to enjoy it, we decided to take turns reading the novel aloud to each other. If you have never done this with someone you cherish, you should. It was one of the most oddly intimate things I’ve ever done and it felt special to do it with this novel specifically, considering the main character has certain mental health struggles that we had both experienced in different ways. I found it easier to talk about some of my experiences in context of the character and that was fantastic. If you have had experiences similar to what the main character Aza regularly lives with, I think you could give this to loved ones to help convey what may motivate certain thoughts, actions, and behaviors in your life in a simpler way than trying to articulate it yourself. In a weird way, this novel helped me think about some of my behaviors in a way I hadn’t contextualized them for myself before, which is pretty powerful. 

I’ve been a fan of Green’s works for more than 10 years, so it would take a lot for me not to enjoy one of his novels now. My positive bias accounted for, Turtles All the Way Down was great and fantastic and I loved it. The characters were witty and the storyline was completely engrossing. I loved dissecting it aloud as I moved forward with reading the book.

I put off writing this review for a long time, as if delaying the review would retain some of the magic of how I acquired and read this text, and that has unfortunately negatively affected the actual substance of my review because I remember the feeling of reading this book more than I remember all the odds and ends. I remember feeling comforted and understood and loved and all of that was special. I wish I could have read this book as a teen because I think it would have added some clarity to parts of my life that were all too confusing to me then, and I hope it is able to do that for teens who read it now. 

Publication Date: 10 October 2017 by Dutton Books for Young ReadersFormat: Hardcover.

Author: John Green @twitter/facebook/instagram/YouTube

Mini Review: I Hate Everyone, but You by Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin

ihateeveryonebutyouThis book was ANNOYING!! Is it normal in teen friendships for one friend to be mostly terrible and one to be mostly great and for an outside observer (or reader in this case) to root for the two to stay friends? I think not. Instead of encouraging these two misfit friends to grow with other friends who align more with their interests, we see the two main characters (Aza and Gen) repeatedly force themselves to continue being friends with their closest friend from high school. While hints about this not being the best friendship came up a few times, I would have liked the toxicity of the friendship to have directly been addressed instead of slightly implied and magically resolved so that people reading this novel don’t think that represents a normal, healthy friendship that they should continue to contribute to.

I laughed a lot with Gen’s dialogue and found her to be a pretty enjoyable character that I would’ve liked to have seen in a different story. I really liked the novel format of the book, which is entirely consists of relayed emails and text messages. I really loved the concept of two high school best friends who are navigating the friendship growing pains of each friend individually going in a different direction, but I did not like the execution of this book at all. The two authors are pretty famous on the internet, particularly YouTube, but I was unfamiliar with them before I had read the book so my impressions of them didn’t make me read this with rose-colored lenses. The main characters also both have names that begin with the same letters as the authors’ names… make of that what you will.

 

Publication Date: 5 September 2017 by Wednesday BooksFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Gaby Dunn YouTube/@twitter/@instagram and Allison Raskin YouTube/@twitter/@instagram

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

IMG_7999Have you ever fantasized about having sex with a mermaid/merman/merperson? Then this IS the book for you! Unfortunately, I have not and it was not.
I’ve been reading Melissa Broder’s work for years in different formats and styles (see her book of personal essays and corresponding twitter account, her poetry, and her monthly existential horoscope). I enjoy her voice and am willing to follow her down most paths, but I couldn’t get behind most of this storyline (falling in love with a mythical creature in a non-fantastical world).
The novel follows Lucy who is in a rut with her PhD dissertation, her long term relationship, and her life generally. She spirals when pieces of her life begins collapsing and escapes to her sister’s home on the beach where she begins group therapy, bonds with a dog, and falls for a merman.
Aside from grimacing during some of the sex scenes (this may just be me; I find most sex scenes to be gratuitous and unnecessary for my own interests, but they are probably delightful for people seeking steamy descriptions), I fell in love with so many of the sentences in this book. Broder has a beautiful way of writing about depression that really connects with me and I love reading her bits on this and generally moving through life. Single sentences are haunting and poetic and I’ve included some of my favorites below.IMG_8004
Overall — if you read this description and were like “OH YEAH!” you should pick up this book. If it didn’t sound like it was up your alley, you’re probably right and should skip it. Also feel free to enjoy these sexy merman ornaments that I found while wandering around Manhattan two weeks ago.
Quotes are from an advance reader copy and may differ slightly from the final published format.

“I felt tears rise up. I had not cried in years. I had felt, for a long time, that if I started crying I would not stop — that if I finally ripped, there would be nothing to stop my guts from falling out.” 

“I didn’t want to be seen too closely, or I might have to look at me too.”
“Part of me was reacting to the pain. But another part of me liked being melodramatic, babying myself.”

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Hogarth Press via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Hogarth Press or NetGalley.

Publication Date: 1 May 2018 by Hogarth PressFormat: ARC ebook.

Author: Melissa Broder web/@twitter

 

Vow of Celibacy by Erin Judge

vowofcelibacyThis is a very late, autumnal review of a book that I LOVED this summer. I was going through a bit of a rut with my summer reading — I felt overwhelmed by reading academic articles for work, nonfiction that detailed not always pleasant things, and fiction novels that usually featured not the sunniest of characters. Vow of Celibacy snatched me out of that funk. 

The novel opens with our main character Natalie at a little bit of a crossroads in her life, she’s not completely satisfied with what she’s doing, where her path is going, or the types of people she’s seeing, but she’s also not completely unhappy either. So she decides to take a ~Vow of Celibacy~ to eliminate one of her unsatisfying aspects of her life as she works through all of her previous relationships to try to determine if a link exists between them that perpetuates her dissatisfaction. The reader gets thrown into her previous romantic and sexual experiences with men and women, whilst bouncing back to current day Natalie, and then back again to previous experiences throughout the whole novel.

Present day Natalie is feeling a little less enchanted with her job as a fashion event planner. Through the encouragement of a new friend, she dips her toe into a new career pathway (being a plus-size model; the internal dialogue as she negotiates this career move with the negative feedback she’s gotten from her mother about her size is A+) and the new, exciting friends that come along with it. She’s also helping her college best friend, Anastaze, navigate her own relationship trysts and ideals after Anastaze decides she wants to enter sexual relationships for the first time which creates a fun contrast between the narrator.

Speaking of fun, this book is filled with it! I laughed so much while because it was exactly my sense of humor. The fact that the author is also a comedian definitely helped amp up the humor that is usually only mildly amusing in other novels. I don’t think I’ve laughed this much or had so much fun while reading a novel since Big Little Lies.

This book is so great in so many ways… down to how the pages of the book were literally the softest of any book pages I have ever felt. When I started reading, I made multiple friends touch the pages to confirm I was not somehow changing their texture in my mind simply because I loved the book so much. Another thing I loved about this book is how Judge introduces a lot of high culture items and gives definitions of what they are (through the narrator’s new perspective to also learning about them) in a way that’s not condescending to the reader and informative in a casual way. I would recommend reading Vow of Celibacy on this merit alone to people on the cusp of hanging with wealthy people, but not coming from a wealthy background themselves just for these bits of accessible high culture (food, wine, etc.).

I also found the later chapters perfectly captures the young adult who moves to New York living experience: being  inundated with bugs and ceilings collapsing, whilst garnering absolutely no remorse from your landlord. I felt worn out for Natalie because I could feel how much New York repeatedly chewed her up and spat her out despite how much she tried to make it work during her immediate post-college years. This book depicts everything so perfectly, including icky situations like New York living and failing, and I cannot recommend it enough. 

When people ask me what was the most fun read of my summer, this is the book that I recommend. As soon as I finished reading Vow of Celibacy, I looked up the author, Erin Judge, because I wanted to gobble up everything she had written. Unfortunately, this is the only book she’s written so far, but I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

lastnightinmontrealI’m slowly making my way through reading other works by the authors who dominated the list of my 5 favorite reads of 2016: I’m currently reading an ARC of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s newest collection, We Were 8 Years in Power; I scooped up Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, in a bookshop last week; and I finally tackled Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel despite snagging it in February.

While I absolutely adore Mandel’s writing style (she has some of the prettiest prose I’ve ever stumbled across), this book was not as breathtaking as Station Eleven. I fell in love with several sentences throughout the novel, but the story as a whole simply didn’t move me in the same way. All of that said, it was still an interesting novel that I pored through incredibly quickly and didn’t find myself bored along the way… but if I was going to recommend one of Mandel’s works to you, I would forcefully push Station Eleven into your lap and leave Last Night in Montreal on the bookshelf for you to pick up on your own when the winds call you that way.

Is this review a little harsh for me actually enjoying the book? Yes! I think I just have a hard time comparing it to Mandel’s other riveting work, but this was still good. In the same way that Station Eleven weaves around narrators and individual lives, Last Night in Montreal largely shifts between four narrators and weaves in and out of the present and when a big event happened in the lives of one of the narrators.

Our main narrator, Eli, is perturbed when his girlfriend Lilia, another one of our narrators, abruptly disappears. But disappearing has been one of the only constants in her life since she was about seven years old and abducted from her home by her father. The private investigator attempting to track Lilia’s whereabouts is one of our other narrators, as is his daughter, Michaela, who is nearly the same age as Lilia. The main portions of the tale revolve around getting us to understand the nature of Lilia’s abduction, why she can’t seem to stay in one place, Eli’s grappling with Lilia being a loose thread, yet more connected to her purpose than the stationary Eli who talks about creating great things, but never seems to actually create anything, and Michaela who is attempting to understand her father’s motivations and the dissolution of her own family system. I was able to predict one of the bigger mysteries and felt like Mandel could’ve used her beautiful words to paint a more colorful picture instead of leaving the reader with a muted, vague, somewhat empty canvas of an explanation for one of the bigger questions in the novel, but I enjoyed the ride anyway.