A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin


A Clash of Kings, second in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, begins very shortly after the end of Game of Thrones. Westeros is in pieces—the Starks have been split apart, winter is coming, and five kings—Robb Stark, Renly Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Joffrey Baratheon, and Balon Greyjoy—are battling for the Iron Throne. Catelyn Stark tries to put her shattered family back together, all while her son grows too fast for her to keep up with. Her daughter, Arya, is still in hiding, and is targeting her enemies. In his brother’s absence, Bran Stark holds Winterfell. Catelyn’s oldest daughter, Sansa, is a hostage in King’s Landing for King Joffrey and Queen Cersei to play with as they please. Also in King’s Landing, Tyrion Lannister puts his foot down and establishes his role in the game. In the North, Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch march beyond the Wall. Trouble brews across the sea, too, as Stannis Baratheon prepares to attack King’s Landing with Melisandre the Red Witch and Davos Seaworth at his side. Theon Grejoy, son of Balon, returns home after many years away. Daenerys Targaryen, last of the Targaryen, now mother of the world’s only dragons, struggles to find war ships for her Dothraki. While a red comet flares in the sky, Westeros is falling apart at the seams.


If you’ve ever seen Game of Thrones, you’re familiar with the grit of A Song of Ice and Fire. George R.R. Martin isn’t afraid to go into fine, gross detail on the screwed-up world of Westeros. It can go overboard at times, but it gets its job done. It’s also a case of “Reality Ensues”—as, to be honest, if we lived in a world where there were no ready police force and the law was only enforced in the enforcers wanted it to be (ie the law enforcers can have bias), there would be chaos everywhere. It’s a nice take on how fantasy worlds are usually depicted as cool and peaceful. Even if the detail isn’t gritty, it’s beautiful. Westeros is a place where everything is larger than life, and Martin depicts it well, from the clothing to the food to the many places travelled.

The plot is not action-packed (except for an important and grandiose battle near the end), for good reason. ASOIAF depicts a world where violence can reign, but it doesn’t drive the story. The story is, as the first book tells, a game. Each chapter is a character’s next move, whether it be manipulation, revenge, war strategy, or simple survival. Even characters not in a permanently-violent position, like Sansa, have gripping storylines. Just because a character is “good”, it does not ensure that they will win—or, if they do, that they will come out in one piece. Some characters do not have their own chapters, like Cersei and Littlefinger, but we still get a look in their heads through their actions and words. But though the story is not one with pedal-to-the-medal pacing, it establishes that it is heading in a certain direction. Stannis is planning to march on King’s Landing, Jon and the Night’s Watch are looking out for Mance Rayder, and Daenerys is looking for war ships and who to trust them with.

When reading and watching Game of Thrones, I always thought that Martin’s strongest skill was writing characters. Each character, good and bad, have their redeeming qualities and their flaws. Stannis has his low moments, but he has reason, too. Sansa is somewhat naïve, but she isn’t stupid. Tyrion is clever and cunning, but he doesn’t know how to hold his tongue. And so on, so forth. Even Joffrey, who has zero redeeming qualities, is so immature and hateful that you kind of love-hate every scene he’s in. The characters we root for screw up sometimes, and villains have motives, reasonable or not.

ACOK has an attention-grabbing story, characters, and details. Yet, for the same things I praise, I dislike in some sense. Details, for example, can drag on. There are scenes when a room full of people describes everyone’s clothing, one-by-one. Something that could be summed up in one paragraph stretches on for three or more to fill up the chapter length. Towards the end of the book, there’s a battle scene that goes into such detail, much of the tension and suspense is lost. I found myself skimming through many dragging parts of the book.

Because of this, Jon Snow’s chapters really slow down the pacing, as most is just travelling in the land beyond the wall. As said before, things could be summed it, but instead stretches on beyond necessity. Catelyn’s chapters are not so tedious, but they do have slow moments, as only one thing of great importance happens in them. Sansa’s, Tyrion’s, and Davos’s piqued the most interest, with Arya’s, Bran’s, and Theon’s following.

One thing that I distract from both this book and its predecessor is that sadder scenes are ruined with lengthy dialogue. There’s a very poignant scene from Catelyn where she mourns how broken her family has become, but she goes into such detail about things that the emotion is ruined. The sad scenes that work well are ones that have little to no dialogue in them, like, ironically, another scene with Catelyn.

ACOK is a long read, tedious at times, but ultimately worth it. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll be a fan of this, too.

Too Far by Rich Shapero

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Too Far follows six-year-old Robbie, a child with a lot of imagination and nowhere to put it, living in the Alaskan countryside. Robbie’s parents are in a failing marriage—his father encouraging his curiosity, his mother determined to keep him confined to the house. One day, on a whim, Robbie travels out into the forest and meets a girl named Fristeen. Fristeen is colorful, chipper, and utterly wild. Fristeen is under the care of her easygoing but spacey mother, Grace. Fristeen and Robbie form a tight bond, and the two travel into Too Far, their make-believe wonderland. In Too Far, there is a red lake, a tree named He Knows, a forest of Bendies, and the benevolent but mysterious Dream Man and Dawn. Although Too Far becomes the children’s escape to joy, they soon realize that they can never escape reality, as it soon creeps into Too Far.

Too Far is a book that is told in two parts: Too Far and the real world. The real world is easy enough to understand, albeit told through children’s eyes. Robbie and Fristeen’s parents are presented the way a child would, through very opinionated eyes. To Robbie, his mother is controlling and boring, not wanting him to travel out into the woods, but to readers, we understand where her maternal fear comes from. Robbie sees his father as fun-loving and supportive, though we may think him to be too loose with his child. Robbie looks up to Fristeen’s mother Grace as a wise, mystic woman who is as easy-going as it gets. We, however, see that Grace is often drugged out of her mind, and though she loves her daughter, she also pays no mind to her safety. Framing these characters through Robbie’s and Fristeen’s eyes works both ways: we see them as the flawed humans they are, while we also see how tragically idealistic the children are.

The second part of the book, Too Far, is told in a very mystical, fairy-tale way. There’s a tree named He Knows that talks, a ‘bouncy lake’, etc. Although we as readers know that these are simply fragments of the children’s imaginations, they are treated as fact. The characters of Dawn and Dream Man may seem confusing at first, but as the book continues, it becomes clearer that they represent the children’s parents: they love them, but they don’t always make sense, they do bad things and don’t apologize, and they bounce between caring for and pulling away from the kids. It also becomes increasingly clearer throughout the story that Too Far is more dangerous than the children realize. Playing out in the woods is all fun and games before the reader realizes, “Oh, yeah, these are two children completely unsupervised in a place where they could die.”

Without giving away spoilers, the book does end on a very somber note, albeit not one that doesn’t make sense. In fact, as readers, we may consider the ending to be bittersweet, though it’s a tragic one for Robbie and Fristeen. I think the book overall captures the imagination and innocence of children, while also capturing the adult fear of “These children have no idea about what a bad situation they’re in.” Also of interesting note—the book has a soundtrack! Dawn Remembers is an album by Rich Shapero and Maria Taylor made with the book in mind. Cool.

On a more negative note, there are some slow parts in the book, wherein Robbie and Fristeen are just moseying around Too Far. Now, arguably, this is because they’re two bored kids with nothing to do, but it still makes it a tedious read. Especially noticeable in that the kids follow a sort of pattern every time they go into Too Far. Some scenes with Dawn and Dream Man can be a bit hard to decipher, as they are two unreal things being treated as real—in other words, though they are in the children’s imaginations, they seem to have real-world effect.

And of course, the most controversial part of the book—two kids in a sexual relationship! Robbie and Fristeen never actually have sex…or, if they did, it was too ambiguous to tell…but there are parts where the six-year-olds become…acquainted with each other. Kids learning about sexuality is a really tricky thing to write on. It happens, we’ve all been through it, but it’s very uncomfortable when done wrong, and it can very easily be done wrong. And Too Far’s depiction of the situation is…fine. No, I did not enjoy reading about two children getting naked together, but it could have been way worse.

All in all, though it can be difficult to understand and slow to process, Too Far does give a very interesting take through a child’s view. It is imaginative, worrying, and hopeful at the same time. I understand that it is a very divisive book, though, so I’d day look at a sample and see if it interests you.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

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The Giver by Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry’s The Giver is set in a place known simply as “the community”. In the community, everyone is expected to show one another respect and caring—rudeness, lying, and simple exaggeration are all discouraged. Anywhere beyond the community is known simply as “Elsewhere”, and those who break the rules, grow too old or too sick, or simply ask, are “released” to Elsewhere. People are divided by their numbers (ages) and job occupations. Once a person enters the Ceremony of Twelves, they are Assigned their roles in the community—except for Jonas, who is chosen to be the Receiver of Memories, the highest honor of them all. Jonas has no idea what it means to be able to “receive”, but enters training anyway, apprenticing the previous Receiver known as “the Giver.” As Jonas is given memories, he realizes that he and the community have lost more than just the past.

The simple detail given in the book reflects Jonas’s and the community’s point of views. They do not notice color, shape, or form because they have been taught not to. As the book goes on, the detail grows to show Jonas’s worldview expanding. The twist with color is also a clever one that I did not see coming, as is the more major twist towards the end. Even though we may not be able to perfectly see what is happening, we get the idea clear enough.

Dystopian novels are always hit-and-miss with me, and I feel that the one presented here works. Lowry wisely does not explain every facet of the community, as each answer would probably raise another question. There’s no extremely-advanced technology or a dictionary’s worth of terms to keep up with. Although the community, to us readers, is as bizarre as it needs to be, it does not break logic. There’s some sick kind of reason to how the community is run. The lack of explanation for what caused the world to become the way it is works in the story’s favor.

Jonas, being twelve, offers a naïve newcomer’s view on the events taking place. We learn what he learns. Admittedly, I would say that the only character with personalities are Lily, Jonas’s sister; Asher, Jonas’s friend; and the Giver himself. One could argue that this is the point, to show how the community is boring and unison, but the vocal charismas of Asher and Lily kind of undermine that. The Giver himself is an enjoyable character—you expect him to be quiet and mysterious, in that ‘creepy-magic-old-guy’ kind a way, but he’s actually very sweet and soft-spoken. The way he interacts with Jonas is both heartwarming and telling of the setting the story takes place in. The same can be said for the dialogue spoken in the story. It is stilted and awkward, but with reason.

The subjects that story tackles, and the numb tone to which it does, adds to the eerie and mysterious tone of the novel. Murder, loneliness, solitude, and lack of emotion are all discussed in a speculative manner—i.e., how would people act if they did not know what ‘this’ meant? Jonas himself must deal with great emotional suffering as he realizes that the people he loves cannot and do not love him back. The film adaptation was a romance story between Jonas and Fiona, but it’s more of a tragedy here. Jonas has feelings for Fiona, but not only can she not reciprocate them, Jonas himself can hardly understand them. This helps the curiosity as to what caused society to become the way it has.

Though the novel has many things working in its favor, and it builds a not-wholly-original-but-overall-captivating world, it ultimately could have done more. The book is very short and only takes a shallow glance into its circumstances. Many things are left in the air and are unresolved. Now, it is important to know that the book actually has sequels/prequels/midequels? Other books that take place in the same setting. Unfortunately, it is also said that these books are inferior to The Giver, and I probably won’t be reading them. So, judging the book by itself, I don’t think it took advantage of its setting as much as it could have. Also, I know many consider the ending to be artistic and deep and insightful, but I was simply unsatisfied by it.

Overall, I still think The Giver is a fine, if not simple, book.



The Green Mile by Stephen King

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Stephen King’s The Green Mile is a recollection by the elderly Paul Edgecombe of his days as a prison guard. Paul was a guard for the E block of the prison, where prisoners are kept until their executions via electric chair—the floor of the E block is bright green, earning it the title of the Green Mile. Paul finds his job to be a never-ending cycle of prisoner comes in, prisoner stays, prisoner goes, etc. Lately, he has to grapple with Percy Wetmore, a young prison guard who uses connections to higher-ups as an excuse to abuse the prisoners, and Eduard Delacroix, an insane but seemingly harmless inmate with an amazingly intelligent mouse named Mr. Jingles. While Paul and the other guards think nothing of the inmates, their minds change when they meet John Coffey—a giant of a man found guilty of the rape and murder of two little girls. Though Coffey is quiet at first, the guards soon realize that there is more to him than meets the eye—a superpower, perhaps, that doubles as a curse.

As with all of his works, King has an eye for dialogue and detail. I saw every image and heard every conversation as perfectly as possible. Though the characters use expressions we don’t in reality, they did not feel out of place. And though not every moment of the book is packed with suspense and drama, I rarely ever felt bored with it. The cuts to the present-day elderly Paul calmed things down, but did not damage the overall experience, something that most past-and-present-spliced books find difficult to pull off. Delacroix, Wetmore, Coffey, and Wharton were all characters with fantastic characterizations that made them stand out from one another. The plot of the book does not have a typical point-A-to-point-B formatting. The book does not build up to something over its course; arguably, the climax of the book happens a little over halfway through, with the rest tying up loose ends.

On the downside, some of these details can border on unnecessary—one will probably tire of how often the act of urinating is detailed in this book. The first part of the book that focuses so heavily on Mr. Jingles the mouse can also be irksome to get through. And though some of the characters stand out so greatly, others, mostly the prison guards, do not. In all honesty, the only thing I ever knew to differentiate them by was the knowledge that Brutal was the tall and muscular one. That’s it.

The book gives a message that can be hard to swallow: we will all do bad things, some more than others, and how soon we will have to make up for them is unknown. Characters like Wetmore and Percy, without giving away details, exemplify true evils in humans with no remorse for their actions. Meanwhile, characters like Paul and Coffey spend much of their time questioning their choices and wondering if they have done the right thing. The ‘twist’ in the book is also well-executed, as I legitimately did not see it coming, and the smaller ‘twist’ at the end further proves the book’s message.

The Green Mile is deep, dark, and contemplative, and I’d recommend it to everyone.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a speculative fiction piece taking place in a dystopian world. After the government has been usurped, the main character, known by her fake name of “Offred”, lives in the reformed country of Gilead. Gilead is based on strict but warped Christian fundamentals. Men and women are assigned roles in society—men having roles in government or security, women the roles of housekeeping and simple wives. Offred is a Handmaid. Her job is to go from household to household and become pregnant with the household’s Commander’s child, give it to the Wife, and move to the next house. If she does not succeed in pregnancy within three households, she will be shipped off to the “Colonies.” Throughout the story, Offred looks back on her past life, laments her lack of independency, and wonders if an uprising is on the way.

The story is told by jumps between the present day and the past. The restrictive, “women-aren’t-allowed-to-raise-their-voices” world is juxtaposed to our modern day world. Though the difference is great, the novel rarely goes overboard with it. The few times that Offred laments her restrictive life are used to effect, as opposed to coming up every other sentence. The overall world and how it works are also told in a simple “this is how it is” fashion. The book, after all, doesn’t need to inform the reader that what is happening is not okay—the reader knows that—so Offred doesn’t need to bring it up all the time.

The fact that Offred rarely shows how she feels makes the moments of her falling apart all the more effective. Atwood describes the environments with just enough detail to leave the exact image up to the reader, and because of this, leaves things simple enough to understand. Handmaids wear red, Marthas wear green, Guardians wear black, etc., etc. The reader also isn’t told every single practice of Gilead, but the ones they are told are enough to fill in the blanks. This is a tricky thing with dystopian novels like this and The Hunger Games and Divergent—getting across just how bad the government is without spending half the book on exposition. THT does this very well.

The more we find out about Gilead and the rest of the world, the more things click into place, as opposed to it all coming at once. The last few chapters also cement how things are not always one-hundred percent cemented, either. Not everyone is going to listen to the “system.” And not in the straightforward, uprising rebellion way, just twists in the system way. The fact that the world is speculative also lends to its effect. Nothing about Gilead is too technological or fantastical, and is intentionally realistic enough in function and design. While it’s also clear that the rest of the world is not exactly like this, the book wisely leaves out how other countries react to Gilead, as any explanation would probably be unrealistic.

Characters in this book are tricky. The only ones with straightforward personalities are Moira, Offred’s best friend; the Commander of Offred’s household; and Serena Joy, the Wife to the Commander. Moira is almost like the character who’s supposed to be the protagonist—she’s not vocally rebelling against the system, but she’s sneaky about it, and unlike Offred, retains her personality after the change. The Commander is intentionally mysterious and hard to figure out. Serena Joy is almost the same, as it’s unclear exactly what her motivations are. These characters are primarily what sets the plot forward.

Offred herself is hard to place. It could be argued that she’s simply a shadow of her former self, and that years of abuse and despair have worn her too far down to recover. Her acceptance but bitterness of the system, for example, and having more curiosity than hope in regards to change. This is reasonable, as like I’ve said, she does have her moments where she crumbles a bit. Her reactions to change are not hope or joy, but rather caution in case she gets in trouble.

Because of this, when she thinks back on her former child and husband, it can be a bit hard to take seriously. She doesn’t fear for them, rarely expresses hope that they’re alive, and seems to just accept that they’re gone and she’ll never see them again. The memories she has of her child are tender, but regarding her ex-husband, she talks about him as if he never really mattered. It can be confusing and conflicting at times. This problem is especially tedious towards the end. Offred is put into several very emotional situations that she doesn’t react very emotionally to.

The book can be slow at times, because progressions of the plot are coupled with the unspoken thoughts and feelings from Offred. Understandable, considering this is first-person, but rather than the two being interlaced with each other, one chapter can be wholly plot, and the other wholly thoughts. It’s hard not to skim through some bits (sorry if this is literary-sacrilegious.)

The book, without giving away anything, has a semi-happy, semi-ambiguous ending that ties everything nicely together. There’s no grand battle with explosions or anything, but it does end on as pragmatic of a good ending as possible. I didn’t feel like time had been wasted, and its open interpretation gives a lot to think of.

So, in conclusion, THT can be slow and tedious at times, but it still offers some thoughtful insight and capturing worldbuilding.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – A Book Review

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Memoirs of a Geisha follows the life of a Japanese girl, Chiyo, as she grows up in 1920s-onward Japan. Chiyo lives in a “tipsy” house Yoriodo and lives a very simple life. After her mother falls ill, and her father is too old to pay for the medicine on top of everything else, Chiyo’s father sells Chiyo to an okiya, where she is trained to become a geisha. Besides the unfairness of her life as it is, Sayuri must battle Hatsumomo, a cruel senior geisha who hates Sayuri from day one, and the greedy owners of the okiya, Mother and Auntie. Sayuri finds a mentor in senior geisha Mameha, and with her help, ventures a path in hopes of becoming the most successful geisha in Japan—and hopefully win the heart of Ken Iwamura, chairman of Japan’s most important electric company.

As a prelude to my review, I’d like to bring up aesthetics and morality, which we discussed in class earlier this year—basically, whether art and morality should be connected or separated. Autonomists believe they should be separated, aesthetic moralists believe they should be connected. I am an aesthetic moralist, which is important to bring up as I talk about this book.

While writing Memoirs, Golden interviewed renowned and retired geisha Mineko Iwasaki for background information on the life and customs of geisha. This led to two big problems—firstly, Golden had promised Iwasaki that she would remain anonymous, then published her as a source in the book. Because geisha have a traditional code of silence about their work, Iwasaki received a great deal of backlash, including death threats. Secondly, Golden took a few too many liberties when describing the work of geisha, namely that of mizuage and danna. Mizuage, according to Golden’s version of Japanese history, was the tradition of selling an apprentice geisha’s (maiko) virginity to the highest bidder. In Memoirs, this is treated as absolute tradition, while in reality, while bidding on a maiko’s virginity did happen, the maiko was never obligated to accept the offers, and rarely ever did. A geisha’s danna was a wealthy man served as the geisha’s patron, providing money for her expenses and such. Memoirs portrays a geisha and a danna’s relationship as a sexual one, the geisha sleeping with the danna in payment for his money—in reality, danna and geisha rarely have sexual relationships, and if they do, it is much more than ‘casual’ and is not seen as exchange for the danna’s money.

These portrayals of geisha customs have kind of contributed to the way they are seen today—aka, prostitutes. Curiously enough, in the book, there’s a part where Sayuri amusedly debunks the myth that geisha sell their bodies…in the same book where geisha sell their bodies.

In short, enjoying this book can be a little more difficult knowing the harm it does, and I argue that the book’s value gets degraded because of its presentation.

Regarding the story itself:

The first ¾ of the book is what I found to be the most capturing. Sayuri’s travel from being sold to the okiya, separated from her sister, tormented by Hatsumomo, and so forth keep great tension. I was genuinely interested on how Sayuri would do, if she would escape from the okiya, etc. It was easy to dislike Hatsumomo as much as I was supposed to. Golden has a knack for description, and I imagined everything perfectly. The little details that Golden gets right—kimono, dancing and shamisen training, even food—are told in vivid detail. The way he describes character is unique, as he almost always compares them to something else—the character Dr. Crab is named as such for the way he awkwardly bends his arms.

The characters in the book are also interesting. Mameha, Sayuri’s mentor, is kind and wise, while also being mysterious and a bit sketchy. Pumpkin, the other girl at Sayuri’s okiya, was appropriately saddening. Hatsumomo was despicable in the best way. I think Nobu was my favorite character, since I have a fondness for characters who are gruff and blunt but have their soft spots. However, as much as these characters are enjoyable, some of them could have gotten better spotlight, or better outcomes. Of particular note, Sayuri spends a great part of the novel pursuing Ken, who she always refers to as simply “the Chairman”, and we unfortunately do not get as much time with him as wanted. He’s kind for sure, but that’s as much as we can get, since Sayuri spends most of the book unable to get closer to him. Because the Chairman is seen so little, the idea that Sayuri would spend so much of her life chasing him is a bit hard to stomach.

Sayuri herself is a bit of a weak point. She’s…fine. Just fine. She doesn’t really stand out very much, the way she reacts to things do not really give a lot of characters, so on, so forth. She goes through some tough stuff, but never really grieves long about it. Things that she feels so strongly about one chapter, she never references again later. This has the unfortunate side effect of leaving some plot threads loose. Unlike The Lovely Bones, we aren’t meant to put ourselves in Sayuri’s shoes—she’s a character, not a stand-in, that we are supposed to follow. The most character she gets is in the final part of the book, which unfortunately I believe to be the book’s biggest detractor.

The last part of the book can’t be detailed without giving away pretty much everything to read the book for. In short, Sayuri makes some ill choices. It was hard to root for her reading through them, especially when she makes these choices for relatively petty goals. Most things that were built up throughout the whole book get anticlimactic and unfair ends. The final pages can be inspirational, as Sayuri, now old, looks back on her life and the things she’d overcome, but they also include revelations that further sour the book as a whole.

Memoirs has an attention-grabbing beginning and middle but unfortunately goes downhill in quality as it comes to its end. After having so much interest and faith in it at first, finishing the book left me disappointed. This, coupled with the controversies and harm the book has brought, leaves me with really mixed feelings and a reluctance to read it again.

The Lovely Bones Review

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – A Book Review

(This book deals with some heavy stuff, so I’ll warn about it now.)

The Lovely Bones tells a story about the rape and murder of fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon—literally three sentences in—and the results about it in her family and community. Susie narrates the story from her personal heaven, but although the story is told from her point of view, she is not the main character. The book follows a sort of ‘cast ensemble’: Susie’s sister Lindsey, her father Jack, her mother Abigail, her younger brother Buckley, her first love Ray, her classmate Ruth, her murder’s investigator Len, and her neighbor-turned-killer Mr. Harvey. The book is not a murder mystery—you know within the first few pages that Mr. Harvey is the culprit—nor is it a thriller, or a horror story. It’s a bit hard to say exactly what genre the book is, but I would just say that it’s drama.

The story does not have a happy beginning, middle, or end. I doubt this is a spoiler, but Susie does not return from the dead for the sake of a happy ending. I even hesitate to say that the ending is going to satisfy everyone, or that it’s meant to. The book does not follow the usual book outline, either—it does not go from point A to point B, and it doesn’t have a big climax to it.

The book is about healing from the loss of a child/love/sister/friend. We see how each character goes through Susie’s murder, in healthy ways and unhealthy, through union and division. It has one or two supernatural elements to it, but otherwise, the story is about as rooted in reality as it gets. Because of this, and because the story is told through Susie’s eyes as she watches her family grieve her, it’s a very personal experience. I would argue that, because Susie herself does not enact much effect on the plot, and we don’t see very much of her personality, it’s almost like watching your family deal with your death.

That being said, Susie dealing with her own murder is also a-little-too-personal-in-a-relatable-way. Through her narration, Susie laments some of the things that we fear: being separated from family, dying at a young age, watching something horrible happen and not being able to help. The question that keeps Susie from reaching ‘wide, wide heaven’ is, I think, a question we all encounter when we lose a loved one: Why?

It’s the personal attachment, not a heart-racing plot, that kept me reading. Halfway through the book, I realized that there was not going to be a ‘happy’ ending to the plot, but it wasn’t the plot that I was concerned with. When I wasn’t relating to Susie and her struggle with ‘Why’, I was imagining myself in the places of the other characters. Lindsey deals with losing her older sister (I have an older sister myself) and being left in her shadow. Jack, like Susie, keeps fighting for an answer to ‘Why’ that can’t really come. Even Abigail, who I have found most readers dislike, has a relatable experience of trying to escape from an inescapable situation. Buckley is the smallest character, but while Lindsey is older and can deal with her and her parents’ grief, Buckley does not remember Susie quite as well (being so young) and is left to watch the people he loves fall apart. Sebold herself was a rape victim in college, so I’d argue that the story comes from a personal place, which is likely why it works so well.

Even scenes revolving around the absolutely despicable Mr. Harvey are interesting to watch—for me, it was because of the knowledge that people like Mr. Harvey do exist and have done the things he has done, and the book takes a gander on why they are the way that they are. But, much like Susie’s ‘Why’, there really isn’t an answer. We find out a bit of Mr. Harvey’s backstory, but it is never enough to excuse his actions, which is realistically unsatisfactory.

The book is probably the saddest that I’ve ever read, but it’s now one of my favorites. It’s odd, because my other favorite books are so different from this, but none of them have resonated with me so much. The book is also very well-written—it’s difficult to describe, but it captures the emotions of the characters and their observations without being too personal to that specific character. Like before, the writing makes it easy to replace Susie’s family with your own family, so even with just a bit of description, you can understand how they feel perfectly.

Even if I couldn’t relate to the characters, I’d still admire them. I believe my favorite character was Grandma Lynn. You don’t see her grieving nearly as much as the other family members, but you can tell Susie’s death has affected her, or at least made her realize how detached she is from her family and daughter. Buckley’s lack of grief also makes him a calm kind of mediator compared to the rest of his family—while they may be caught up in a moment, Buckley is there as a kind of outsider-looking-in and reacts more on sympathy than empathy. I will say this: there is a scene involving Buckley towards the end of the book that is probably one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever read.

However, I will not say that every part of the book is perfect. The dialogue is not always natural. It may sound cool or sweet, but once or twice I was taken out of the moment because I asked myself, “Who on earth would say that?” Because Susie is omnipresent throughout the book, the parts where she sees something good happening to her family and reacts with joy and excitement can be a bit off-putting.

I found the Ruth’s and Ray’s parts to be the most lackluster out of the cast’s. Ruth’s story was interesting enough—I don’t count it as much of a spoiler since it happens early, but basically, Susie’s soul “touches” Ruth as it goes to heaven. So Ruth’s story mainly revolves around trying to find out if ghosts are real, and what happened to Susie, if she was ‘the one.’ But Ruth herself does not have a very strong character. I could never describe her personality right. Ray’s story is about moving on from his high school sweetheart’s death, but I’m not going to lie, it got a little annoying at some point. Ray and Susie never really dated, they kissed once and barely spoke to one another—all when they were fourteen—but Ray and Susie both act like they were each other’s true love. It’s hard to believe Ray would still be hung up about it after such a long period of time.

I can’t give specifics, but there’s also a supernatural event that occurs with Ray near the ending, and it felt very unnecessary and awkward, and honestly a little creepy. It was probably the one part of the book I wanted to skip over.

But besides that, this is probably one of my favorite books now, albeit I think it’ll take a while before I pick it up again.

Halo: The Fall of Reach

Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund is the first novel in the extended universe of Microsoft’s Halo series. It takes place in the distant future, in an era of space colonization. Within the novel, Nylund paints the stories of UNSC (United Nations Space Command) soldiers in their first confrontations with an alien race known as the covenant that is out to destroy mankind. In their first message to humankind, the covenant claim to have been sent by God to destroy mankind for a better cause. The title of the novel itself is a nod to the central conflict as Reach is the name of the planet on which much of the story takes place. The planet Reach was invaded by the covenant in an attempt to eradicate mankind that sparks an interstellar war. John, a young boy at the time of the confrontations, was one of hundreds of children removed from their home worlds and trained for years to participate in the UNSC’s top secret Spartan program. Spartans, as they were called, are genetically enhanced humans with abilities and strength comparable to those of superheroes. John, number 117 of the spartans, is the protagonist of the series, known as Master Chief by most within the universe.

Nylund is a well-respected science-fiction writer in today’s era. This is likely due to his ability to captivate audiences of all walks of life through expansion of a popular fictional universe. Though the novel follows a group of soldiers, conflicts often stem from a more complex, underlying moral issue (removal of children from their homes for the sake of genetic experimentation) rather than the typical strategy-oriented story on war tactics. When wartime circumstances arise, Nylund provides an excellent look into the minds of his characters and thoroughly explains situations military strategy in a way that civilians can understand. Often, changes in font type are used to represent codes sent between commanding offices as well as transmissions from the covenant. Subtle changes such as these add a certain element of realism to such an outlandish universe by emphasizing important details.

Characters within the story, regardless of how small their roles may be, are given all the depth and emotional reaction of real humans, making it easier to be fully immersed in the conflicts introduced. Nylund captures humanlike characteristics perfectly and thus provides a sharper contrast between human soldiers, genetically mutated spartans, and the barbaric nature of the covenant. Because of their purpose in the war effort, spartans are trained to neglect and repress their emotions through physical labor, thus causing moral dilemmas in the spartans themselves as well as their trainers. Human soldiers are portrayed as feeling much more anxiety about the seemingly inevitable end of humanity as a whole as they see alien fleets glassing whole planets from outer space. Spartans, as their name suggests, are a small, but surprisingly powerful group of individuals, willing to defy seemingly unbeatable odds.

Halo: The Fall of Reach and other books within the series are typically accessible through outlets such as Barnes and Noble and Walmart for as little as $4.00 each, making them a favorite among fans of the Halo franchise.