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review 2020-07-08 15:24
A challenging and beautifully diverse reading experience
Matt: More Than Words - Hans M. Hirschi

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel. I have read quite a few of Hirschi’s novels and have enjoyed them all, and some are among my favourites in recent years. He combines some of the characteristics that I most admire in authors: he writes strong and diverse characters, no matter what particular challenges they might be faced with; he carefully researches the topics he touches on (even when some of them might seem only incidental to the novel, he makes sure nothing is left to chance) and uses his research wisely (never banging readers on the head with it); and he does not shy away from the ugliest and harshest realities of life, while at the same time always dealing sensitively and constructively with those. His stories are not fairy tales, and they force us to look at aspects of society and of ourselves that perhaps we’re not proud of, but if we rise to the challenge we’ll be rewarded with an enlightening experience. And a great read. This novel is no exception. We follow the life of Matt, a young man diagnosed with cerebral palsy due to birth complications, for a few rather momentous months. The book, narrated in the third person, is told from three of the main characters’ perspectives. The novel is mostly Matt’s, or at least as good an approximation at what Matt’s experience might be as the author can achieve. It is a difficult task, and he expresses it better than I can in his acknowledgements at the end (‘How does one write about someone in whose situation you’ve never been? How do you give voice to someone who has none? And maybe, most importantly, how, without being insensitive, without objectifying, generalizing, stereotyping, in short without being a “dick”, do you tell a story that needs telling, about someone who could actually be out there, right now?’). He also explains that he shared his early drafts with experts (people with cerebral palsy and their carers), and, in my non-expert opinion, he manages to depict what the daily life of the protagonist would be like. The other two main characters, Timmy, a professional carer who is Matt’s personal assistant at the beginning of the story but gets removed from his team due to a misunderstanding, and Martha, Matt’s mother, are also given a saying and some of the chapters are told from their perspective. Timmy is a lovely young man, a carer in the true sense of the word, and he has a real calling for the type of job he is doing. Martha is a devoted mother who found herself in a tough situation when she was very young and who has poured her heart and soul into looking after her son. Neither one of them are perfect (nor is Matt for that matter), and they make mistakes, lose heart and faith at times, and can feel overwhelmed or despondent, but they never give up and always have Matt’s best interests in mind. Of course, I’ve already said that this is not a fairy tale. Far from it. We all know and have heard about some of the terrible things that happen: abuse, neglect, lack of resources, and although in this case there is no political and/or social oversight (Matt has access to a package of care and the family is reasonably well-supported, something that unfortunately is not the case everywhere), somehow things still go wrong, and we get to see what it must be like to be the victim of such abuse when you are totally unable not only of physically defending yourself but also of even talking about it. Terrifying. Not everybody is suited for this kind of work, and it is sad to think that those in the most vulnerable circumstances can be exposed to such abuse. And yes, because of the level of need and the limited resources, sometimes the vetting procedures are not as stringent as they should be. (The current health crisis has highlighted how much we expect of some workers and how little a compensation they receive for their efforts). Communication and how important it is to try to make sure everybody can communicate and become as independent as possible is one of the main themes of the book. The experience of living locked up inside your own body, with other people not even aware that you know what is going on around you and always making decisions for you comes through very strongly in the book. Matt knows and worries about how he is perceived by others, has internalised many of the attitudes he’s seen, and the comments he has overheard, and many aspects of life we take for granted are like an impossible dream to him. Speaking, going for a walk, even deciding what to watch on television, are tasks beyond his scope. The research into ways to facilitate communication and to increase independence is highlighted in the novel, and the role new technologies (including AI) can play is explored. With the appropriate investment, there’s little doubt that this could make a big difference in the lives of many people. Martha’s difficult situation (she wishes her son to fulfil his potential and be able to do what any other 23 years old normally does, but she’s also fiercely protective of him and does not want to get her hopes up for them to only be crushed again), the personal price she has to pay, the way she has to sacrifice any semblance of a normal life to keep looking after Matt, her worry about the future… are also convincingly depicted. And Timmy’s own feelings and his acknowledgment of his own limitations ring true as well. Family relationships feature strongly not only in the case of Matt, but also of Timmy, originally from Africa and adopted by Caucasian parents, a loving couple who accept him as he is, and Chen, Timmy’s friend and ex-boyfriend, whose parents are more understanding than he thought they’d be. The writing style is compelling and descriptive, although the descriptions are focused on the emotions and feelings rather than on the outward appearance of people and things. I found the story moving, and although it is not a page-turner in the common sense of the word, I was totally engulfed in it and couldn’t put it down, even when some of the events were horrifying at times and made me want to look away. The novel ends in a positive note, and I hope that in real life everybody in Matt’s situation will have access to a fulfilling life, if not now, in the very near future. As a society, we can do much to help, and we should. This novel reminded me of Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (yes, the famous screenwriter who ended up in the blacklist, one of Hollywood’s Ten), whose movie version I saw as a teenager (also directed by Trumbo), and I’ve never forgotten. The main character there is a WWI soldier who is so severely injured during the war that he ends up unable to move and to communicate, or so those around him think. Although the circumstances are very different (the main character there had led a normal life before and has many memories, although if that makes his life better is a matter of opinion), and I’m sure this novel will appeal to people looking for a book focusing on diverse characters and exploring the world beyond our everyday experiences. As I’ve explained, it is not a comfortable and easy read, but one that will challenge us and make us look at life with new eyes. If you are up for the challenge, the rewards are immense.

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review 2019-09-26 22:13
Sleepless Volume 1 by Sarah Vaughn et al
Sleepless Vol 1 - Sarah Vaughn,Alissa Sallah,Leila del Duca,Deron Bennett

Date Published: July 10, 2018

Format: Print

Source: Library

Date Read: September 23, 2019

 

Blurb:

Lady "Poppy" Pyppenia is guarded by the Sleepless Knight Cyrenic, but becomes endangered when an assassin threatens her life in the new king's reign. As Poppy and Cyrenic try to discover who wants her dead, they must navigate the dangerous waters of life at court, and of their growing feelings for one another.

Collects issues 1-6.

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Review

 

So good, I bought the second volume on Kindle because my libraries didn't have a copy. I picked this up to read for the A Grimm Tale square. Poppy is the illegitimate (in the eyes of her father's subjects) daughter of the dead king and niece of the new king (she is considered legitimate by her mother's people). Poppy wants to leave the kingdom and go home (back to her mother's land), but the new king wants her to stay to be a companion/tutor to his daughter (the future queen), who was raised in her mother's land and is a stranger to the land that she now somewhat rules. And someone at court wants Poppy dead - is it the future queen? Is it the king's nephew, who is looking for a advantageous marriage to the future queen but will settle with marrying Poppy?

 

On the journey to survive court intrigue is Poppy's official bodyguard, Cyrenic of the Sleepless Knights, and maybe the future queen herself. The relationship with Cyrenic is romantic but also respectful; the relationship between the princess and Poppy is about both royals throwing truth bombs at each and being real with each other. It is weird in a good way. The star reader from her mother's land allows Poppy to keep a connection with that land strong while also giving her a surrogate mother figure. 

 

The artwork is elevated by the colors used - it is a very autumn-y. The dresses are just as big, silky, and beautiful as the ones in Disney movies. The bags and undereye circles on the Sleepless Knights makes them (especially Cyrenic) made them different than the typical knight in shining armor perfection, more relatable. The balance between the characters and the plot is quick but fits the graphic novel format so well. 

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review 2019-09-26 20:42
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
Pashmina - Nidhi Chanani

Date Published: October 3, 2017

Format: Print

Source: Library

Date Read: September 17, 2019

 

Blurb:

Priyanka Das has so many unanswered questions: Why did her mother abandon her home in India years ago? What was it like there? And most importantly, who is her father, and why did her mom leave him behind? But Pri's mom avoids these questions--the topic of India is permanently closed.

For Pri, her mother's homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she's ever dared and find the family she never knew.

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Review

 

Browsing my library's graphic novel section, I came upon this book and the cover was too cute to pass up. I read it while daughter was at dance class and son was at soccer practice and finished it before bedtime routines, so it is a short but great story. 

 

Pri is 15 and has a loving if at times frustrating relationship with her mother, an immigrant from India. Pri wants to know who and where she comes home apart from her American-ness. A special shawl hidden in a suitcase is discovered by Pri, who puts it on and is transported to a (for lack of a better description) "tourist brochure" version of India except for this shadow following her. A chance opportunity to visit India and her mother's family gives Pri the answers she was looking for and then some. This real world visit isn't as clean and colorful as the trips via the shawl, but Pri gets a much more wider understanding of her heritage and doesn't feel knowing the grimier parts lessens her desire to know more. The different color schemes really help give each setting and time in Pri's journey in knowing her heritage. The magical realism and the shadow/ghost made it perfect reading for Halloween Bingo.

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review 2019-09-24 05:57
Always and Forever, Lara Jean (To All the Boys I've Loved Before #3) by Jenny Han
Always and Forever, Lara Jean - Jenny Han

2.75/5

 

Go to Bridget's Book Ramblings for my thoughts

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review 2019-07-23 22:14
The Nickel Boys - Colson Whitehead

This is the type of book you want to savour even though you can read it all in one sitting.
Colson Whitehead has done it again, The Nickel Boys is a gritty and horrifying story based on real events. Truth and fiction blend seamlessly in Whitehead's prose and the duel narratives force the reader to question their perceptions of the characters and their own preconceived notions about histories malleability.


Longer review to come because I plan to buy, annotate and reread this book many times.
Some of the smaller things I enjoyed:
•The callbacks to events at the very beginning of the book being shown in a new light (but in a way I would never have thought)
•The relationships between the boys
•How realistic the characters were
•The ending
•And that twist. I didn't see it coming...

I received this book as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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