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Weekly Reads: Week 22

Hello, June! I hope y’all are having a great start to your summer!

You guys, look at all these books. I really need to step up my reading game this month – I still have a few stragglers left from last month’s library haul that I probably won’t get to, but these are all so great, I can’t imagine not reading any of these! Although now I face another problem, which to read first? I’ve already snooped on the first 20 pages from a few of them, and now I just keep switching between them. I can’t choose!

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Thank goodness for good books, because life just keeps on throwing its punches – luckily they’re rather small slaps this time, but still, annoying. Minutes before my state inspection, my gas cap tether decided to crumble to pieces, so yeah, never imagined that could happen…let alone weeks after finally getting my car back from the shop. I’m so grateful for good friends and stories to keep me going!

And I can’t forget these happy faces! My roomie’s pup is going to make a great calendar model. 🙂

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Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Maddy is the girl you only see in movies, trapped insider her home for the last seventeen years with little hope of ever leaving. She suffers from a rare immunodeficiency disease known as SCID which makes her allergic to pretty much everything or anyone she’ll ever come into contact with, hence the bubble her mother has created for her safety. Then one day, new neighbors arrive next door, complete with their son Olly – tall, lean, wearing all black, always mysteriously disappearing to the roof, she can’t help but spy on the neighbors, becoming fascinated with their every move, a new connection to the outside world. A romantic, and online, flirtation ensues, leading to the dramatic entrance of a new person inside the protected bubble, leading Maddy to new temptations and a wild dream of joining the outside world.

“Everything is a risk. Not doing anything is a risk. It’s up to you.”

I listened to the audio version of the novel, and it drew me in from the very first second. You can’t help but fall for Maddy, she’s vulnerable in a way none of us can even dream of and desperate for any chance at connection. She’s unique and obsessed with books, her one outlet into the world – I think this was Yoon’s attempt to make Maddy more relatable to the reader, and boy, did it work. Then, the romance – their flirtation is magnetic, simply adorable! Olly is a much more dramatic character than Maddy, surprising since she’s the one with the illness, but he has more drama in his life than meets the eye. Their relationship is everything it should be, a little naïve and a little awkward – it’s not too much to overpower the real story, Maddy’s story. The central theme is more, wanting more, needing more, more connection, more of life, more of everything. The ending was a little unexpected given everything that led up to it, and I don’t think enough was done to justify the means, but how else could it have ended? Clearly, a happy ending was called for and Yoon definitely delivered.

Rating: 3 Stars

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Free Men by Katy Simpson Smith

 Set just after the Revolutionary War in the American South, three men bound by their search for freedom will go to desperate lengths to take hold of a future not promised by fate. An escaped slave, a Creek Indian, and an emotionally disturbed white man are on the run when their paths fortuitously converge. The white man, Cat, is short on words while Bob, the escaped slave, is as talkative as the days are long, learning long ago to fill the voids with the sound of his voice, while the Creek man is sparing with his words he is found wise, seeking retribution in order to take leadership of his community. Together, they hatch a plan to rob a party of their coin, but the plan is botched and the trio soon find themselves on the run for a shocking murder. A French trapper, Le Clerc, has been charged with their capture, but after years of studying as an amateur anthropologist, Le Clerc is overwhelmed by his curiosity. What could have possibly brought these three men together? What binds them? As they continue on their journey, they’ll find a new meaning in freedom and family as they become the embodiment of any young American.

“You’ll see…soon you’ll be old enough to know what you want, and it’ll take all of you to get it and hold it. It’ll take all of you to keep on holding it, even after nothing’s left. That’s what all this is, just finding and then holding.”

“This was how we whipped ourselves into froth. Revenge played in our hearts, weaseled down our arms into our hands, which could not stop clenching. No man could take my brothers and not in turn be taken, or I was not a man.”

Knowing little of the actual story line, I was initially drawn to the novel by its setting, taking place in 1788 only ten years after the Revolutionary War. I was immediately drawn by the unique story that unfolded, bringing with it a wide range of perspectives for a cast of characters typical of the time. Each of the men narrates his own telling of the story, beginning with their childhood and ending as they each grow to manhood and escape their respective homes, to the incident that brought them together. Their relationship is certainly unique, as they initially meet in distrust and part as friends, no part of it is unrealistic and unfolds the way you’d expect between men on the run, each wondering if the man on their left is eager for the kill or on his way to turn him in, but together they find a common ground and a peace of mind in the freedom they ultimately seek. Cat is, to me, the most intriguing character, and even at the novel’s conclusion, I’m still not exactly sure of his motives in the end. Of all the men, his story is the most heartbreaking, from his abusive father to an orphanage to his apprenticeship to a doctor (not as great of a set-up as you’d think) to losing his family. The man has certainly gone through it, and hasn’t even reached his fortieth yet. I guess I can understand after everything he experienced, his willingness to give up in exchange for another man’s happiness, but I still can’t help but grieve for his ending.

Rating: 5 Stars

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Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

 Following the event from To Kill a Mockingbird, Jean Louise Finch, now twenty-six, is returning home to Maycomb, Alabama from New York City for a visit. From the novel’s start, we’re presented a very different Jean Louise – no longer “Scout”, she’s grown into womanhood with a spunk that refuses to back down, and yet has grown a weakness susceptible to mechanical objects, be it a fold a way bed or an automobile, she’s a walking contradiction from the very beginning. Modern, yet hesitant. Hesitant to embrace new technology, and hesitant to embrace the very change she argues to support (more on that later). During her visit, she’ll discover a secret side to Maycomb and her beloved family, a side not altogether hidden from her child self, but perhaps not seen for it’s full value. She’ll question her values and everything she’s esteemed her father, the righteous Atticus Finch, to be.

First off, the novel is spared of any real plot scheme – besides her discovery of Atticus’ true beliefs and the resulting argument, not much really happens. There’s a little town gossip to catch up on and a depressing visit to Calpurnia’s, but much of the novel is filled in by amusing childhood memories that have little to do with her ultimate dilemma. I guess you could argue the flashbacks give clues as to her real problem…i.e. should she marry Henry given everything she now knows about him, but once the discovery is made, it feels like the first half of the novel was spun in a way to fill pages. Days into her two-week visit, she sneaks into a town council meeting at which Atticus is a prime member, a council where the men of the town get their fill of bashing the African American population of Alabama and the Supreme Court’s rulings to allow desegregation. It’s an outrage, a sin to any true believer of equal rights – how could Atticus be apart of this?

“I need a watchman to tell me this what a man says but this is what he means, to draw a line down the middle and say here is this justice and there is that justice and make me understand the difference.”

But he is. Sadly, our Atticus Finch is not the God he was perceived to be in To Kill a Mockingbird – he is human, and there are dualities to his beliefs that any man may be presumed to carry. I’d rather not go into the arguments made, it’s a long discussion that really doesn’t result to much…other than Jean Louise’s decision to ultimately look the other way. Oh, and this is after her uncle hits her over the head as a distraction. Yeah, they just glossed right over that. In the end, it’s not clear if she’ll really be staying in Maycomb for good, or at least immediately, but it’s clear that she’s no longer bumping heads with the town (a visual given many times throughout the novel). She chooses to accept their bigotry, while forgetting her own. No real conclusion is reached by either side, and it’s not the “we’ll agree to disagree” closure one might expect. If anything, the result is completely understandable for the time and much closer to the uncomfortable truth, which is perhaps the cause for all the turmoil over the big reveal. Compared to it’s predecessor, it really doesn’t matter what Atticus believes, because in the end, he did the right thing standing up for an innocent man, and he’ll continue to do so, just lacking the moral punch that came with it.

 Rating: 3 Stars

What have you been reading lately?

Have you read Go Set a Watchman? What did you think?

**For a complete list of reviews, check out The Reads: From A to Z**

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