Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

Sometimes I like to tell you the  story of how I came to read a book, because the story is so coincidental, and the book is so amazing, it’s as if divine intervention put the book in your hands.  You didn’t choose it, it chose you and there’s really not a whole lot you could have done about it.  Now, I requested Love is the Higher Law from the library, so I had some hand in it, but I never expected to read it the day I picked it up from the library, I never expected to read it one sitting, I never expected to love it.  I requested a random book from David Levithan simply because I know Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a join effort by Levithan and John Green, is out and I wanted to be at least a little familiar with Levithan.  I picked Love is the Higher Law, because I had seen a good review over at Bending Bookshelf and I had little interest in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.  Plus, Love is the Higher Law is an awesome title.  I only started reading it as soon as I got it because the library lost one of my holds and went searching for it.  So, what does a person like me do when they have to wait somewhere for a long time?  We read.

And I read.  And then I got in my car and all I wanted to do was keep reading.  Then I got home and I read and I read.  I cried a little.  And then I read some more until the book was over and all I wanted to do was keep talking about it.  Maybe I’m a sucker for books about September 11, but I can’t help it. 10 years later, I still want to tell you where I was and what I was doing.  And I still want to talk about how none of my sisters remember it at all because they are so young, and that, among everything else, will probably define where our generation ends and begins.  Because I remember what it was like before.

The point is that, not only do I want to tell you, but I want to hear it.  I want to hear where you were, and what you were doing and how this huge thing changed your life.  That’s what David Levithan does with Love is the Higher Law. Essentially, this book is about grief.  It’s about grief that’s bigger than one person, than one family, than one city.  It’s about a grief that holds over an entire country, but that each individual person feels acutely in some way, shape or form.  Yes, this book has plot and there are characters, but who the characters are doesn’t really matter, because it could be you or me or your next door neighbor.  The thing about grief is that it is the most universal and yet most individual feeling in the world.  Explaining what grief feels like seems impossible, it’s too much bigger than words.  Somehow, though, David Levithan manages to make this a story that’s even bigger that September 11 by the end.  This book is about 3 New York teenagers who are trying to sort through their feelings about what happened, while at the same time dealing with going away to college for the first time and trying to find love.

Claire, Jasper and Peter become friends through coincidences.  Claire and Peter are acquaintances at school, who are both at a friend’s party.  Jasper is there too, a friend of another friend.  Jasper and Peter have a flirtation that does not end well.  Jasper and Claire randomly meet each other again and have beautiful conversations.  They form an odd friendship, the three of them, but it is the best kind of friendship.  How it began is too coincidental, too strange to even seem real.

The narration switches from three main characters and I think out of all of them, Jasper was the strongest.  I would have liked more Claire and Peter, but Jasper really carried this book.  More than anything, I think the alternating voices give different perspective to the event itself.  Claire was at school, but ended up leaving to find her little brother.  They walked with the rest of the elementary school to a safer part of the city and her description of what that was like was absolutely terrifying.  Jasper was house sitting for his parents, who are visiting family in Korea, and slept through the whole thing.  Can you imagine going to sleep and waking up to find the entire world has changed?

If I could, I would quote this whole book to you.  But I will settle with this conversation:

She went on, “There’s the drown of things and the swim of things, I guess.  I’ve been going back and forth, back and forth.  I feel the weight of it. […]  Have you talked to people about this?”  Claire asked me.  “I mean, about what happened?  I’ve tried, but it never works.  I don’t know what I want from it, but I’m never satisfied.  I can’t talk to my mom about it.  And even my friends are strange to talk to, because they’re all caught up in their own versions, and every time I bring it up, they make it about them.”

I almost forgot she’d asked me a question.  Then she paused, and I said, “Oh.  Me?  I haven’t really talked to anyone….  I mean, what’s the point?”

This wasn’t really a question meant to be answered, but Claire looked out to the water and gave it a shot.

“I think the point is to realize you’re not alone.” (103)

I think everyone should read this book, because we’re not done talking about September 11th.  We’re going to have to explain to kids what it was and what it meant and how things were different before.  How will we do that?  How will I explain to my children where I was and what I was doing and how confusing and terrifying it was for a 12-year-old? There are no answers to those questions, I know that.  The readers who are the target audience for this book are kids like my sisters, they were there, but they probably don’t remember it too well.  This book will explain something, will explain the loss we all felt.  But they aren’t the only ones who should be reading it, so please, get out there, grab this book and read it.  It’s beautiful and heart breaking and one of the best novels I’ve read this year.

So go read this!:  NOW| tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: Mrs. Magoo Reads, Book Addiction, Reading Rants!, The Book Obsession, Read this Book!, She is too fond of books, Bending Bookshelf, The Reading Zone, Read What You Know.

The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet by Myrlin A Hermes

The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet by Myrlin A. Hermes carries the subtitle “Shakespeare turned topsy-turvy” and that is indeed an apt description; this is a book that takes everything you know about Shakespeare and his plays, especially Hamlet and completely turns them on their head.  Horatio is a scholar at Wittenberg University, but he is also a poet.  When he is commissioned to turn a love story into a play by a baron and his wife Lady Adriane, Horatio never expects for his life to get quite so turned upside down.  He meets the beautiful Prince of Denmark, named (you guessed it) Hamlet.  What follows is a love circle of Elizabethan proportions, when Horatio and Hamlet begin to see more and more of each other.  Lady Adriane, obsessed with Horatio’s love poetry to Hamlet, seduces him into being her lover.  When a mysterious man named Shake-Speare enters the picture, things get even more confusing.

When I started reading The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet, I really loved it.  The beginning is solid and the writing is very readable.  Plus there is enough mystery to keep anyone reading.  The best part about this book is the way that Hermes takes things that most everyone knows from Shakespeare and cleverly integrates them into the novel.  I haven’t read most of Shakespeare’s plays, so I’m sure there were even more references that I didn’t get, but I really enjoyed them when I did.  For the most part, I really loved Horatio and he was a wonderful, insecure narrator.  Unfortunately, this novel did not quite live up to all of its promise.

Unfortunately, the relationships in this novel confused me.  I certainly understood the love that existed between Hamlet and Horatio, it was a touching romance and that was what I really wanted to read about.  I did not understand Lady Adriane or her motivations at all, and when everyone starts doing every one else, well then I really didn’t understand anyone’s motivations.  That is not to say that I don’t think there shouldn’t have been betrayals, because that’s what makes an interesting story, but there was no reasoning behind them or, if there was, it went completely over my head.

I did not love the alternative perspective that seemed randomly placed within the novel.  In terms of a writing technique, it was only useful for one scene.  Though I have read Hamlet, which is the most important play you have to have read for this book to be funny, I am less knowledgeable about some of Shakespeare’s other plays and I wonder if that would have made a difference.  Nonetheless, I really enjoyed Hermes’s wit and her writing style.  I would absolutely be interested in reading her previous novel Careful What You Wish For and anything she writes in the future.  There are a lot of folks out there who really loved this novel, but it just didn’t live up to the promise that I had for it at the beginning.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

I received this book as a part of the TLC Book Tour for the novel.

Other tour stops: Book Addiction, Life in the Thumb, Steph and Tony Investigate, Raging Bibliomania, Wordsmithonia, Eclectic/Eccentric, Books for Breakfast, Worducopia, Write Meg!

Girlhood friendship in Woodson’s “After Tupac and D Foster”

When I read If you come softly by Jacqueline Woodson back in spring, I was completely blown away by the beauty and the tragedy of it.  It’s a simple, lovely novel that has the power to change lives.  So really if you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this review and go read If you come softly. You won’t regret it.   After reading it, I wanted to read every Jacqueline Woodson book I could get my hands on, so when I saw After Tupac and D Foster on my library shelf, I grabbed it right away.

Where If you come softly was a story about romantic love, After Tupac and D Foster is the story of three black girls who are best friends, Neeka, D and our narrator.  D mysteriously enters their lives the summer before they turn twelve and just as quickly leaves right after they turn 13.  Tupac plays an important role in the girls’ lives, with the book beginning when Tupac was shot for the first time and ending with his death.  D looks up to Tupac and she feels as though he is talking directly to her through his music.  They become closer friends through their passion for the musician and it gives the novel the perfect arc.

What I loved best about After Tupac and D Foster was the narrator and her voice.  She’s very mature, but not unbelievable, and she is just looking for a little bit of beauty in the world.  The novel captures an era and a place perfectly.  The love that the three girls share is so perfectly described, but it manages to be about bigger things than that.  It is a short book, but one that encompasses so many parts of life, from the challenges to the perfect moments.   I loved the inclusion of Tupac in this book because it puts it in a precise moment of time, New York in the 90s.  Tupac is a fascinating man and I highly recommend the VH1 documentary about his life.  There are so many things that I didn’t know about him, but having watched the documentary beforehand really gave me a greater sense of the emotional way that the girls reacted to Tupac and just how important he really was (and is).

But Woodson does not stop at the girls’ friendship or their relationship with Tupac.  There is so much more in this book and it’s amazing how much Woodson captures in 150 pages.  One of the most touching scenes is when the narrator and Neeka go visit Neeka’s brother Tash in jail.  He was wrongfully accused of assaulting an old friend, but really it was a crime against Tash, in which he was beaten as well.  Tash, a gay man, must avoid being beaten or worse in prison and he has a conversation with his mother that will absolutely break your heart.

“Why did you roam, though?” I asked.  Whenever D talked about her roaming, I always asked why.  I wanted to understand — deep — what it was like to step outside. […]

“Uptown they got those fancy buildings.  Out in Brooklyn they got those pretty brownstone houses.  West side got Central Park and people going all over the place in those bright yellow taxicabs.”  D looked at us and I knew a part of her knew how much me and Neeka lived for the rare moments when she showed us where she’d been and, by doing so, we got to go to those places too.

And then it made sense to me — crazy-fast sense in a way it hadn’t before.  D walked out of her own life each time she stepped into one of those other places.  She got off the bus or walked up out of the subway and her life disappeared, got replaced by that new place, those new strangers  — like big pink erasers.  Before me and Neeka started asking D about her life, we were erasers too — she got to step into our world with all the trees and mamas calling from windows and kids playing on the block, and forget (18).

And that is exactly what Woodson does for her readers.  You so perfectly step into this world, onto this  street and you are completely with the three girls that it does not feel like you are reading a story, it’s more real than that.  There are many other passages that I want to quote for you, but I think I’ll let you discover them for yourself.  Jacqueline Woodson has done it again and I plan on reading everything she has ever written, because if all her books are only half as good as If you come softly and After Tupac and D Foster then they will all be  excellent.

So go read  this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: Color Online & The Happy Nappy Bookseller.

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Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

Mrs. Dalloway is a beautiful novel.  Pure and simple: I could leave my thoughts there and be perfectly content with that.  (But don’t worry, we all know I won’t!)  There is not  much of a plot in this short novel, instead it is a collection of musings and events in one day in the life of four people who are vaguely interconnected in post-WWI London.  Mrs. Dalloway is throwing a party that evening, and while  she is shopping, she thinks about her decision to marry Richard Dalloway instead of Peter Walsh.  We then follow Peter Walsh as he walks through London, comparing the city that he remembers of his childhood to this new post-war city.  While in the park, he observes a young couple who are Rezia and Septimus.  Rezia has been caring for Septimus since he returned from the war, psychologically unstable and depressed.  Even though this is really Mrs. Dalloway and Peter’s story, the prose that accompanied Rezia and Septimus’s story was the most beautiful and interesting.

Changing from character to character was  like floating on air.  That’s the best metaphor that I could come up with and it’s still an imperfect description.  We begin with Clarissa musing about the day in June:

…in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved: life; London; this moment of June. (3)

(June had drawn out every leaf on the trees.  The mothers of Pimlico gave suck to their young.  Messages were passing from the Fleet to the Admiralty.  Arlington Street and Piccadilly seemed to chafe the very air in the Park and lift  its leaves hotly, brilliantly, on waves of that divine vitality which Clarissa loved.  To dance, to ride, she had adored all that.)  (5)

Can I just say that Woolf uses the semicolon beautifully?  Clarissa then begins to reminisce about her old love, Peter:

For they might be parted for hundreds of years, she and Peter; she never wrote a letter and his were dry sticks; but suddenly it would come over her, If he were with me now what would he say? — some days, some sights bringing him back to her calmly, without the old bitterness; which perhaps was the reward of having cared for  people… (5)

When all of the action of the story takes place in one day, time becomes very important.  The original title of the novel was The Hours, just like the novel that Michael Cunningham wrote based on Mrs. Dalloway. There are constant references to the passage of time, though the actual time of the novel is fluid and nonlinear, with the characters weaving in and out of reflection and action.

She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.  (6)

She heard the click of the typewriter.  It was her  life, and, bending her head over the hall table, she bowed beneath the influence, felt blessed and purified, saying to herself, as she took the pad  with the telephone message on it, how moments like this are buds on the tree of life, flowers of darkness they are, she thought (as if some lovely rose had blossomed for her eyes only); not for a moment did she believe in God; but all the more, she thought, taking up the pad, must one repay in daily life to servants, yes to dogs and canaries, above all to Richard her husband, who was the foundation of it — of the gay sounds, of the green lights, of the cook even whistling, for Mrs. Walker was Irish and whistled all day long — one must pay back from this secret deposit of exquisite moments, she thought…” (21)

Mrs. Dalloway is a very sensory novel, and no character expresses those senses better than Septimus (though Mrs. Dalloway tries):

“…and Septimus heard her say “Kay Arr” close to his ear, deeply, softly, like a  mellow organ, but with a roughness in her voice like a grasshopper’s, which rasped his spine deliciously and sent running up into his brain waves of sound which, concussing, broke.  A marvelous discovery indeed — that the human voice in certain atmospheric conditions (for one must be scientific, above all scientific) can quicken trees into life!  Happily Rezia put her hand with a tremendous weight on his knee so that he was weighted down, transfixed, or the excitement of the elm tree rising and falling, rising and falling, with all their leaves alight and the color thinning and thickening from blue to the green of a hollow wave, like plumes on horses’ heads, feathers on ladies’, so proudly they rose and fell, so superbly, would have sent him mad.  But he would not go mad.  He would shut his eyes; he would see no more.

But they beckoned; leaves were alive; trees were alive.  And the leaves being connected by millions  of fibers with his own body, there on the seat, fanned it up and down…” (16)

I think that might be the most beautiful passage in the whole novel. Ah!  It gives me chills.  Isn’t it just absolutely wonderful?

…this body, with all its capacities, seemed nothing — nothing at all.  She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street,this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.  (8)

I really feel as though I could quote from every single page of this book, but I’m going to try very hard to avoid that.  There are several important themes or questions that are being asked in Mrs. Dalloway: there is the question of identity or the way we see ourselves and how important that is to the way others see us, time and the  importance of the mundane in forming our own definition of ourselves.  There is also, of course, the question of love and what love can mean:

But this question of love (she thought, putting her coat away), this falling in love with women.  Take Sally Seton; her relation in the old days with Sally Seton.  Had not that, after all, been love? (23)

This novel is so melancholy, but at the same time very aware of the beauty and simplicity a day can hold in it.  Everything in the eyes of these four characters becomes beautiful, even death.  We are all only given a short time on earth, so we might as well enjoy it and find that beauty:

The word “time” split its husk; poured its riches over him; and from his lips fell like shells, like shavings from a plane, without making them, hard, white, imperishable words, and flew to attach themselves to their places in an ode to Time; an immortal ode to Time.  He sang.  Evans answered from behind the tree.  The dead were in Thessaly.  Evans sang, among the orchids.  There they waited till the War was over, and now the dead, now Evans himself– (50).

Shredding and slicing, dividing and subdividing, the clocks of Harley Street nibbled at the June day, counselled submission, upheld authority and pointed out in chorus the supreme advantages of a sense of proportion, until the mound of time was so far diminished that a commercial clock, suspended above a shop on Oxford Street, announced, genially and fraternally, as if it were a pleasure to Messrs. Rigby and Lowndes to give the information graüs, that it was half-past one.  (73)

Mrs. Dalloway is not quite what I was expecting.  It was so short and beautiful, and yes it was very stream of conscious, and it definitely helped that I had read and seen The Hours, which is based on Mrs. Dalloway.  There are some things that I probably would have missed if I hadn’t had a basic knowledge of the plot, because many things are carefully veiled beneath Woolf’s beautiful language.  There were times when I got lost in the prose, but at the very least it was always beautiful to read. She had such a wonderful eye for things and her descriptions are really unlike anything I’ve ever read before.  I loved this  novel and I’m sure that I will be reading it again one day.  I’m so glad that the Woolf in Winter read-along pushed me to read this.

Thank you to all of our hosts, especially Sarah who is hosting the read along today.  Other hosts: Frances, Emily & Claire.

Nicaragua & LGBT rights in Meet Me Under the Ceiba

It is purely serendipitous that the book I’m reviewing  the day after posting what the GLBT Reading Challenge means to me is a novel that has GLBT rights at the forefront of its plot and motivation.  Meet Me Under the Ceiba, written by Silvio Sirias, is the  chronicle of the murder of a young woman named Adela by an unnamed researcher who became fascinated by her death.  Through a series of interviews with her family, friends and even her murderers to try to piece together the events leading up to her death and her last moments.

This book is not necessarily a mystery: we know who her murderers are from the very beginning and we know exactly why they killed her.  The narrator uncovers small mysteries that paint a clearer picture of Adela’s last day on earth, but what this is really about is giving Adela a fair representation, trying to uncover the lies that have been protecting her murderers.

Adela, a lesbian, was passionately in love with the beautiful Ixelia, a gorgeous young woman who had been abused her whole life and was eventually sold by her mother into a relationship with Don Roque, a powerful and cruel older man.  When Adela tries to rescue Ixelia from her fate, crosses the wrong paths and Don Roque and Ixelia’s  mother, Doña Erlinda, decide to get rid of her once and for all.  Adela’s story is tragic and heartbreaking; you spend most of the novel hoping that something will change, that Adela will be uncovered as alive.  She was so obviously loved in her small community.

I learned a lot about the state of LGBT rights in Nicaragua and it is very difficult to read about.  In Nicaragua and much of Latin America, being part of the LGBT community means that in the eyes of some people, you are less than a person.  During the investigation and the trial, many people simply referred to Adela as “la cochona”, the dyke, never using her name.  Adela is reduced to nothing but her sexuality, she no longer has an identity.

Meet Me Under the Ceiba begins with a quote from Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García  Márquez: “none of us could continue living without an exact knowledge of the place and mission assigned to us by fate.”  There is certainly some inspiration from Chronicle of a Death Foretold in Sirias’ narration, but it is more straightforward in Meet Me Under the Ceiba.  There are many intriguing levels of narration since the story is told completely in flashbacks and interviews, the painful reality is that because Adela is no longer here, we will never really know what happened to her.

Meet Me Under the Ceiba is an important novel.  It addresses Nicaraguan LGBT rights and also the failure of the judicial system.  Most importantly, it paints a tragic portrait of one woman’s unfortunate death in the hopes of stopping future deaths.  Siarias’ story is based on the true murder of Aura Rosa Pavón and at the end he describes which aspects of the story were fact and which were fiction, but in the end I am so grateful that Sirias told this story, because it is absolutely one that needed to be heard.  I definitely recommend Meet Me Under the Ceiba, not only for the important issues that it puts out into the open, but also because it is a highly readable novel that will keep you an edge.

Silvio Sirias will be visiting Regular Rumination today to answer any questions you might have, so feel free to leave a question in the comments!  The author has generously offered to do a giveaway!  If you are interested in reading Meet Me Under the Ceiba, there are a couple ways you can enter this giveaway.

To enter:
+1 for a comment, +1 for asking Silvias a question in the comments, +1 for a tweet or a blog post, +1 for following
Please leave a separate comment for each entry!   This contest is open until Sunday, January 17.

Meet Me Under the Ceiba is part of BronzeWord Latino Book Tours and will be making the following tour stops this week: Book Lover Carol, Brown Girl Speaks, The Tranquilo Traveler, Pisti Totol, Mama XXI, Farm Lane Books, Sandra’s Book Club, Latino Books Examiner, Una in a Million.

I received Meet Me Under the Ceiba for review from the BronzeWord Latino Book Group.  You can purchase Meet Me Under the Ceiba on Amazon.

8:15pm: There’s still plenty of time to ask questions and have them answered, but I just wanted to say thank you so much to Silvio Sirias for visiting Regular Rumination today!  It’s been so wonderful having you here.

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