Book Review: The Opposite of Loneliness

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 10-01-2014

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Picture 5The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories
Marina Keegan
Scribner
April 2014

ARC provided by NetGalley

Writing an honest review for any book can be difficult, but this type of book is especially difficult. Marina was already garnering praise before she graduated: her essay “Opposite of Loneliness” went viral, she graduated magna cum laude from Yale, a job all lined up, things being published…and she died tragically five days after she graduated. It’s not the type of book that you want to write and say that you didn’t like, for fear of pitchforks and torches and shouts. But, here’s the thing…I don’t have to write that type of review. Honestly.

This book is many things: a grieving process for the family, a memorial to a friend, and more importantly a powerful monument to a writer that is able to distill the essence of humanity onto paper. The book is composed of several different parts: the introduction essay that the book takes its title from “The Opposite of Loneliness,” several of Marina’s short stories, and several of her essays. Intermixed in are quotes and snippets from poems that she wrote, although these are not shown in full, at least not in this galley copy. All in all it captures some of the best work of this young writer.

The first quote we see is from Marina’s poem Bygones: “Do you wanna leave soon?”No, I want enough time to be in love with everything. And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.”

The title essay, “The Opposite of Loneliness” went viral after it was published. And you really don’t have to stretch to understand why, as its something that many of us can relate to. While it is written about graduating from college, it also applies to the leaving of home, of a comfort zone, of going off into the unknown. And while there have been hundreds of writers that have written about this topic before, Marina’s take is different. She states simply, and eloquently, that the feeling of leaving the known is scary. Of walking away from having friends right next door, of structure, and everything taken care of is one of the scariest things possible. And all of these people saying “oh this is the best time of your life, cherish it” makes you afraid of what’s to come. But Marina stands up and says, my life isn’t over, I’m going to continue to have fun until I’m old. And while there are many things to quote this one “What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over.” Life isn’t over because of moving on, it’s just beginning.

While there are several of Marina’s stories in the book, they didn’t stand out to me as much. Not because they aren’t good, but because her essays are that much better. In the essays that are shared, it seems obvious a couple of them are school assignments. The first one is about her first car. Now in the hands of most college students they would write about how awesome and cool the car was, or how stupid it was they were driving the station wagon that had been in the family for 10 years. Probably something with a few laughs, but not memorable. Marina’s essay though…is different. Marina doesn’t just write about the car, but she connects it to her essence. We learn how the car came to her after her grandfather passed away and her grandmother wanted to only have one car. That when she got the keys for it she and her grandmother drove stopped, listened to an old tape of a favorite artist, and opened the moonroof to look out, and smiled. That the car had the scent of her grandmother’s perfume in it for a long time, that it was organized like her with a spare sewing kit and other items, until gradually it became Marina’s. The tin foil balls from breakfast biscuits on the way to school on the driver’s side door, the dents in the steering wheel from her fingernails after crying because a boy just wanted to be friends, the smells and papers that lived in the car. Until it was time to pass it on to her brother and she wondered if she could recapture the scent of her grandmother’s perfume one more time. You can’t but help be entrapped by that overwhelming feeling of humanity. She paints a picture with her words and you can see it before you and get swept up in it all.

And her other essays are no less powerful. We read and nod along as she describes growing up and wanting to fit in and she could…except for her diet. Because she needed to be gluten free, before anyone else knew what that meant. And we understand and cringe at the embarrassment she felt as her mom tried to keep her healthy and safe, but made her feel singled out. We understand the constant struggle of wanting to belong, but of having to follow a diet, but balancing the needs of family, but wanting to be normal college girl and not worry about kissing a boy after he drank a beer or ate a pizza. Or in the essay where she writes about beached whales, and the tens of thousands of dollars spent in rescuing them, but we do nothing for the homeless in front of us, but the whales are special, but are fellow humans are right there. Marina makes us proud and sad of our humanity. She captures it so expertly and shows us what we’re doing that is so right…and so wrong.

Marina died young and while we may mourn that, we are left with her essays and other writings that have the power to change the world. And while that may be an over used phrase, I think it accurately describes Marina’s style. Her ability to capture the very essence of humanity! and to distill it onto paper, to share raw emotions with you via words and make you feel what she does…tis a rare gift and talent. While Marina may be gone, we need to read and reread what she has written and take it to heart. Let it give us chills, fear, hope, anger…whatever emotion it brings to you, let it come.

I highly recommend this book to all readers. 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Aphrodite Goddess of Love

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 04-01-2014

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Picture 4Aphrodite: Goddess of Love (Olympians #6)
George O’Connor
First Second
December 2013

Aphrodite. The Goddess of Love. The Goddess of….troublemaking? That’s right, Aphrodite the Goddess of Love, is a troublemaker. Because what else is love, but something to stir the pot and create jealousy and envy…and even hatred. Not just amongst the humans of the world, but of the gods as well, for all feel the power of passion and love and anger that Aphrodite brings forth. For she has always been around. Longer than the gods, she is the same age as Gaia, the earth goddess.  And while Aphrodite has just taken physical form and does not know the powers she carries, Zeus foresees the troubles that will come…and must make decisions that will cause chaos within the heavens themselves, to keep the world turning another day.

This is a fantastic tale. I’ve always been fascinated by Greek and Romany mythology and I love how O’Connor puts this book together. It’s an easy read, but gives so much information to it and is so much better than the boring old books I remember reading about Greek myths. O’Connor makes the world come to life and gives personality to the gods that we meet so that we can understand why they did what they did. This is the first book though that we begin to get a hint that there’s a greater plan in place, not just in Greek mythology, but within this series itself.  Towards the end of the book Zeus has a chat with Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, discusses the power that love has to create chaos, and destruction, and even war.  To me this is just a great bit of information, and well written, to add to the story so that readers understand that just because this book ends, the characters and the stories continue on.  And what happens here can have a wide range of influences that are yet to come.

I’ve always enjoyed George’s artwork in these books with his great use of shadows and bold colors, and even a little bit of foil, makes the characters and the story come to life. And Aphrodite is no exception. The character of Aphrodite is more than just being one of the most beautiful women alive, its also about her movements, her voice, the way that she carries herself and George is able to capture this so that we get a good sense of just who she is and the power that she holds.  Even better O’Connor really highlights the gods and goddesses faces in this volume, where we can see their confusion their hurt, anger, and all of the other emotions that come about because of Aphrodite.  It takes a skilled artist to be able to pull that off and O’Connor is able to capture it in the nuances of the characters expressions with a raised eyebrow and a slight tilt to the head.  It really helps make the characters come to life.

One of the great features of this series, is at the end O’Connor has a section that talks about the different characters, who they are, and other details to help learn more about the Greek world.  This is the perfect companion for people that have been enjoying the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan and want to know more about the Greek/Roman gods and how they work. It would be ok for elementary school age (3rd and above) but they would probably need to read it with a parent. But this would be an excellent book for a middle or high schooler (or even adult) that wants to learn more about the world of Greek mythology. I can’t wait to read the next volume. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond