Friday, July 20, 2018

Nonfiction: Patriot Number One by Lauren Hilgers

I think I can effectively blame my growing interest in the people of China on Evan Osnos' Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China. Osnos did such an amazing job chronicling the change among the people of China that I am willing to pick up almost any new book on the subject. And this interest has led me to Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown by Lauren Hilgers, a book that was initially supposed to be a magazine article, but as time went on, it became clear that what Hilgers found was a much larger story.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a nonfiction book that focuses mostly on the activism, immigration, and the family life of Zhuang Liehong, a Chinese man from the small village of Wukan. Hilgers began reporting on Zhuang and the political unrest in Wukan in 2012, but she begins the story in 2013, when Zhuang began to make serious plans to escape from China and into the United States. Like many immigrants, Zhuang had dreams of making a name for himself and a small fortune, hoping to eventually be able to send both money and grand stories of success to his family back home. Once the escape plan brings both Zhuang and his wife Little Yan to New York City, the real adventure begins, and what follows are years of trying to negotiate his dreams of success against the reality of an immigrant's life in the U.S. Not only that, Zhuang has a hard time hearing about the continued injustices that still plague Wukan, while he attempts to restart life in a new country. As Little Yan points out, protesting does not help pay the bills. When Zhuang still lived in China, he was able to be in the middle of the protests and action, which is what ultimately led him to seek escape. He manages to find like-minded immigrants in his new home of Flushing, New York, such as Tang, a democracy activist who was involved in the Tienanmen Square incident in 1989. But Hilgers also follows immigrants who came to the U.S. for non-political reasons, such as Karen, who was pressured to immigrate by her mother because of the new opportunities she would have. Hilgers follows their stories through mid-2017, giving a thorough view of the trials of a Chinese immigrant in New York City.

My Verdict: I wanted an interesting look at the everyday life of a Chinese immigrant as they attempt to essentially rebuild their life in a new place, and that is exactly what I got. It most likely would have sufficient to follow only Zhuang and Little Yan's story, but Hilgers decided to touch on other immigrants as well. Like Zhuang, Tang escaped China for political reasons, but many years earlier. And Karen's official reason for leaving was for a better education and opportunities. Hilgers' reporting is thorough, and no details are left out. Possibly the only issue I had was with the timeline, as Hilgers does not tell the story beginning in 2012 and continuing to the end. The chapters are conveniently labeled with the time period in which the events take place, but they are placed out of order, so the reader jumps back and forth through time, often moving from China, to the U.S, and then back again in a matter of pages. Add in the characters beyond Zhuang and Little Yan and the timeline becomes incredibly jumbled. Other than that, it is an intriguing personal account of an immigrant's story.

Favorite Moment: When Kaizhi, Zhuang and Little Yan's son, discovers a fascination with trains.

Recommended Reading: I have already mentioned Osnos' Age of Ambition, but I also recommend The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man's Fight for Justice and Freedom in China by Chen Guangcheng, who is mentioned in both Age of Ambition and Patriot Number One.   

Friday, July 13, 2018

Contemporary Fiction: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi is another Goodreads find with a premise that caught my attention. With promises of a story about a girl who develops multiple selves, "written with stylistic brilliance," I figured it was worth checking out this debut novel by a new author many people are excited about.

The Situation: Ada is born the second of three kids to Saul and Saachi in southern Nigeria. From the moment she was born, there was something not quite right about her. Even as an infant, she is hard to comfort, prone to loud and sustained outbursts, and her parents cannot figure out what to do with her. Things only get worse as Ada gets older, until a traumatic event in college changes her, allowing the completion of a transformation that had long been in process. Ada speaks freely with the multiple selves inside of her head, and the conversations are not always pleasant. But the selves are insistent on keeping Ada safe, even if it means protecting her from herself.

The Problem: To see the situation from the outside, it would not look as if the selves are protecting Ada from anyone, including herself. They have her break glasses and  mirrors, only to use the shards to cut herself; they ruthlessly and efficiently hunt down men to play with sexually, only to leave them broken in the end; and they lead her in destroying friendships if only to get some small temporary pleasure for themselves. None of this leaves Ada feeling protected or safe, and any attempts to take her life back fail. If Ada does not find a way to regain control, one self will lead her to its goal of ultimate and final freedom.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel that is set in the present and in various locations. Ada's early life takes place in Nigeria, with her moving to America for college, and then traveling all over the world in her adult life. Many readers have placed this book under the label of literary fiction because of the unique narration, and the amount of story that takes place inside of Ada's head. In fact, most of the narration does not come from Ada, but from the "selves" inside of her, all of which claim to be gods or ogbanje, evil spirits that intentionally cause misfortune. There is We, a collection of selves; Asughara, a protective but also selfish and violent self; and St. Vincent, a gentle self that prefers that Ada reject her more feminine qualities. The We self makes it clear that there may be more selves in play here, but these are the ones the reader sees the most, and all of them claim to care for Ada, while also putting her through immense pain. They will insist they care for her, and then on the next page will assure the reader that they care nothing about what she wants and will do as they please. Only at rare points will Ada seek medical help for what is happening to her, while the selves protest and fight to hold onto their control. And possibly the saddest thing about this novel is the amount of abuse Ada endures from real humans, in addition to what goes on in her head.

My Verdict: This is certainly a fascinating look into a mind that has split itself into separate selves, seemingly in the interest of protection and self-preservation. It is when Ada goes through traumatic events that a new one seemed to show up, and they all have their own agenda, while being more or less united in their actions. There are plenty of heartbreaking moments in the novel, and they mostly come from the self that claims to be the most intent on saving her. Ada is the very definition of the idea of being your own worst enemy, as her worst and most abusive relationship comes from inside of her own head. With intense and impressive language, Emezi writes from her own experiences, and gives us a character who desperately needs to be saved from herself. My only warning would be for anyone with trauma triggers, specifically physical and sexual abuse, as there are plenty of them in the 200+ pages of this book. 

Favorite Moment: *spoiler alert* When We admits the truth that Ada is stronger than they are, and that control was easy when she did not know it.

Favorite Character: I would like to be able to pick Ada's mother, Saachi, but she is often so far removed from her daughter's life that she is rendered mostly useless in helping her. She leaves her children while Ada is still fairly young, which ends up being one of the many events that aids in her daughter's downward spiral. 

Recommended Reading: I recommend Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton, which follows a teenage boy as he struggles with schizophrenia and a new school environment. There is also You Are Here: An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds by Jenny Lawson, which is more or less a coloring book for adults filled with encouragements and witty insights.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Historical Fiction: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

In 2015 Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale won for Best Historical Fiction in the Goodreads Choice Awards. Now Hannah has returned with another historical fiction novel, this one taking place in the wild setting that was small town Alaska in the 1970s. Against this often cold, unforgiving, but also beautiful backdrop, one family will struggle to survive against the dangers both outside and inside of their own home.

The Situation: It is 1974 and Vietnam veteran Ernt Allbright has decided that the lower 48 states are headed for disaster and it is time to head north. A former friend and fellow soldier has left him with land and a small cabin in the tiny town that is Kaneq, Alaska, and this is where Ernt has decided his family will begin their new lives. Pretty much immediately upon arrival, Ernt, his wife Cora, and their 13 year-old daughter Leni, realize they are unprepared for what surviving in Alaska will require, but Ernt is undeterred, and the family gets to work. But summers in Alaska, while incredibly beautiful, can also be deceiving. The days when the sun rarely sets do nothing to prepare you for the cold ones in winter, the season when the darkness reigns. As the Allbrights work harder than they have ever worked before to prepare for their first Alaskan winter, Leni knows that being able to survive the harsh outside will only be half the battle.

The Problem: Ever since he returned from Vietnam, Ernt has been a changed man, and not for the better. In the lower 48 states, he was unable to hold down a job, which resulted in the family moving around a lot, with Alaska being their most recent destination. While the Alaskan summer seems to have energized him and made him a new man, the encroaching darkness will prove to be too much on him, causing effects on his mood that make him more dangerous than any animal out in the wilderness. Leni manages to find refuge in Matthew, the only kid in town her age, though her father hates his father, mostly out of jealousy. The only thing that embarrasses Leni more than how her father acts is the way her mother puts up with it. Alaska seems to have the ability to bring out both the best and worst of people, turning some of them into survivors, while others flee while they can or get swallowed by the wilderness. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a historical fiction novel that begins in 1974, but with that majority of the dramatic action taking place in 1978-1979. Ernt Allbright is a Vietnam veteran will severe PTSD, back when the U.S. was not too good at diagnosing and treating it. This is also a time before laws that were designed to protect victims of domestic abuse. Cora felt trapped in her situation, believing that even if she left Ernt, taking Leni with her, he would only track them down and kill them. But Leni knew that really, her mother loved her father too much to leave him or press charges. The locals of Kaneq make it very clear to the Allbrights that their first winter in Alaska will be rough and that they need to spend the majority of the summer preparing. Ernt insists they are up to the challenge, but this is before the days of 18 hours of darkness and unending snow. It is a novel about Alaska, survival, domestic abuse, PTSD, the effects of war, true community, and love.

My Verdict: Much like with The Nightingale, Hannah manages to tell a story about a time and place that is far removed from most of her readers and bring it to them in vivid detail. Few features or moments are lost as Hannah makes sure to pick up every thread and follow it through. As a person who absolutely cannot stand cold weather (I live in Texas for a reason), the details and visuals of this novel made me want to see Alaska with my own eyes. However, as much as I loved the descriptions of the setting, I had the hardest time with Leni as a character. Having Cora stay with her abusive husband was frustrating enough, but Leni's ability to *spoiler alert* make one bad decision after another, and then be crushed by the consequences was incredibly hard to take for 400+ pages. But then again, when a teenage girl is forced to live that kind of life, she does the best she can, which is exactly what Leni did. With a gorgeous setting, and a community of complex characters, fans of Hannah's other novels will love this one, as will anyone who is at all interested in or fascinated by the wilds of Alaska.

Favorite Moment: When Large Marge, the owner of the General Store, storms into the Allbright's home and proceeds to put Ernt in his place.

Favorite Character: Large Marge used to be a prosecutor in Washington, D.C. before leaving it all behind to start over in Alaska. She is loud, confident, generous, and loving. An argument could easily be made that she is the hero of the novel as she manages to come through for Leni and Cora time and time again.

Recommended Reading: Stephen King's The Shining would actually be a great follow-up considering the similarities (snowbound setting, encroaching mental darkness, tense family relationships). But I will also recommend Educated, a nonfiction book by Tara Westover about her life growing up in a survivalist family that did not believe in public education, and her journey to obtain a PhD from Cambridge. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Young Adult Fiction: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

And once again, we have come to the final week of YA Fest. We have already worked our way through four great YA titles that 2018 has offered us, and today we finish it all off with Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe #2) by Neal Shusterman. The story of Citra and Rowan continues as more is revealed of the world where the occupation of Scythe is deemed necessary. And as usual with a sequel in a book series, I issue the mandatory spoiler alert to anyone who has not read the first one.

The Situation: It has been a year since Citra was awarded the title of Scythe and has begun conducting her own gleanings. Still under the wing of the Honorable Scythe Curie, Scythe Anastasia, as Citra has chosen to be called, has adopted a somewhat unorthodox method of gleaning that has both angered and intrigued the Scythedom. The attention she has received has resulted in someone making attempts on her life, and Rowan will do anything he can to save her, except he is a wanted man who must look over his own shoulder. With an inability to meddle in Scythe matters, even troubling ones, the Thunderhead must recruit someone it trusts to help where it cannot.

The Problem: Above everything, the Thunderhead wants to help. But when it comes to the Scythedom, the most it is allowed to do is watch. Even recruiting an innocent such as Greyson Tolliver to do what it cannot is a dicey move at best. He cannot be told directly what he needs to do, or why he needs to do it. And his actions will bring him a significant amount of unwanted attention from those who do not want him to succeed. Intervention from an all knowing, all seeing being is exactly what needs to happen for the events currently in motion to be stopped. But the Thunderhead is perfect. And breaking its own laws would mean it is not perfect. So does this mean it will only sit back and watch as the people it wants to protect tear themselves apart?

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in a future where death is no longer a thing, and the same is true for war, famine, and disease. In this second book, Shusterman decided to have plenty of the action take place from the (nearly) all seeing vantage point of the Thunderhead, which is essentially the Cloud we know of today, but completely aware and sentient. It takes care of everything for humankind, and the only thing it cannot meddle with is the Scythedom, which is really a shame because the organization that is left to rule itself seems on the verge of falling apart from the inside out. Corruption and politics abound, and even though she has only been a Scythe for a year, Citra has already managed to make a few enemies. In Scythe, the entries between chapters mostly came from the journal of Scythe Curie, but occasionally came from other Scythes central to the story. In the second book, the thoughts and the musings of the Thunderhead take center stage as it ruminates on humankind, the Scythes, and even its own existence. While it may be incredibly capable, it is no true god, and is not in fact perfect, though it claims to be. Thunderhead also gives us a closer look at Unsavories, the class of people drawn to criminal activity with a desire to be against authority, even if the authority is a benevolent computer program. Shusterman has already said there will be a third book, so like a true middle book of a trilogy, this one leaves many loose ends and questions.

My Verdict: Sequels can be hard on a reader. Issues that were seemingly resolved and fixed in the first book can be resurrected, while heroes readers have now become attached to can be done away with in a paragraph. I love that Shusterman opens up this fascinating future even more than he did in the first book, with an intimate look at the thoughts and feelings of the Thunderhead; an in-depth exploration of the world of Unsavories; and even travels to more locations around North America as well as a few far off islands. What I am not too crazy about is the relationship between Citra and Rowan. I have no issue with either of them, or even the idea of them together. I just do not quite believe the attraction or the chemistry for some reason. And the reason I am always wary of picking up a new series is because of the possibility of villains being overpowered and allowed to overcome ridiculous odds so they can continue to wreak havoc. In short, it is a good book, and a good sequel, but it left me sad and anxious for the third one.

Favorite Moment: When it is revealed that Texas is a charter region and the Thunderhead has decided to more or less let it do what it wants. In other charter regions, the Thunderhead has done little controlled social experiments that for the most part have been met with success. But with Texas, it has not been able to come up with a magic formula, and no real conclusion has been made. Not even an all seeing and all knowing being has any idea what to do with this great state.

Least Favorite Moment: The ending. *spoiler alert* How I felt at the end of Avengers: Infinity War is very close to how I felt at the end of this book.

Favorite Character: Greyson Tolliver is a great choice. But I also still love Scythe Faraday and his wise and gentle manner.

Recommended Reading: The Hunger Games trilogy would certainly work, as would Marie Lu's Legend series.    

Friday, June 22, 2018

Young Adult Fiction: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

YA Fest continues with Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha #1), a book that managed to take that highly coveted place on top of the New York Times Bestseller List in its first week of publication. It does not hurt that its release was much anticipated with readers and author's alike excited to get their hands on it, myself included.

The Situation: Zélie is haunted by the last memory she has of her mother. On a night she wishes she could forget, her mother was dragged away to her death by the kingdom that still rules over Orïsha. Zélie and her brother, Tzain, along with their father, live a haunted and unstable existence as they must be on constant watch against the king's guards, as they receive their orders from a man who hates and fears people like Zélie. One upon a time, Orïsha was full of magic and the people who could use it. But when King Saran decided it was time to rid the land of magic, a decision that ended up costing Zélie's mother her life, the link between the Sky Mother and the maji's was severed, leaving all divîners without their magical abilities. Now that they are powerless and defenseless, the remaining divîners are objects of scorn and discrimination. Distinguished by their white hair, people like Zélie are singled out and abused. But a chance encounter with the person least likely to be a divîner's ally gives Zélie a hope she never before dared to think of.

The Problem: After witnessing her father, King Saran, in a shocking and horrible act, Princess Amari decides it is time she claimed the life of freedom she has always dreamed of. But she does not simply run away. Instead, she takes with her a scroll that seems to have the ability to give divîners back their magic. Knowing her father would not hesitate to kill her, his own daughter, for this act of treason, Amari runs for her life, and right into Zélie and Tzain's. Taking it as a sign from Sky Mother, the three of them take off for a journey to reinstate the power of magic to the divîners of Orïsha. However, close behind them is Amari's brother and heir to the throne, Prince Inan, tasked with returning the rogue princess and the scroll to his father. Giving magic back to Orïsha is already a near impossible task, but Zélie manages to hold onto hope, even as she herself entertains many doubts and fears, while also confronting her complicated feelings for an enemy. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fantasy young adult novel set in the fictional land of Orïsha. Zélie and her brother Tzain survived the night of the raids, when their mother was taken from them and killed for being a maji, which is someone who can do magic. If the connection between Sky Mother and the people of Orïsha had not been severed, Zélie would also be able to do magic, but King Saran put an end to all of that. Believing all maji's to be dangerous and evil, due to the regrettable behavior of a few, King Saran is a man who let his fear of a people group rule him into committing unspeakable acts of violence. Teaching his children to believe and act as he does, he has raised his son to believe all magic to be the source of Orïsha's problems, while he keeps his daughter locked up behind the palace walls. Throughout the story, King Saran's fear and hate will be the cause of many innocent lives lost as Zélie, Tzain, and Amari travel across Orïsha in an attempt to restore magic to the land. In the author's note, Adeyemi acknowledges that the book was written during a time when the news was seemingly flooded with stories about unarmed black men and women who were killed by police.  Both the stories in the news and many of the deaths in this book happened because someone with power allowed themselves to be ruled by fear, and an innocent life paid the cost.

My Verdict: I am sure I have mentioned before that fantasy is not really my thing, but young adult literature certainly is, and that, along with the premise, was enough to get me interested in this book. It was a bit of a risk, but I could not be happier that I took it. Clocking in at just over 500 pages, Children of Blood and Bone is an almost non-stop adventure the whole way through. And it is not a matter of Zélie and her friends simply making it from point A to point B. For one, point B keeps moving and shifting. And second, there are so many potential dangers that could stop them, and while some turn out to be helpful, others are more treacherous than previously believed. Using shifting perspectives, Adeyemi gives us three different views of the action, and three different characters who have their own reasons for feeling the way they do about magic. This book is for anyone who loves YA, anyone who loves fantasy, and anyone who loves adventure. Possibly the best part about it is that it is only the first book in a series.

Favorite Moment: When Amari tells her brother she will have no issue taking him down if he stands in her way.

Favorite Character: Amari for Queen! Seriously, she is my favorite by far. I had my doubts in the beginning, as we are probably supposed to, but right before the reader's eyes she turns into the Queen Orïsha needs.

Recommended Reading: The Sea of Ink and Gold series by Traci Chee is also about officials wishing to eliminate a people whose power they are afraid of.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Young Adult Fiction: My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

YA Fest continues with My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma. I have been doing YA Fest for only two years now, and even though I had five Fridays to work with, choosing which books made it in was difficult. I chose today's novel because of the intriguing storyline and my love for characters who have a singular obsession that they are committed to, even though those around them may not understand it, or even be all that supportive.

The Situation: Vaneeta "Winnie" Mehta loves Bollywood movies. She keeps a blog where she reviews them; is co-president of the film club at The Princeton Academy for the Arts and Sciences where she attends high school; is determined to chair the annual film festival; and up until a few weeks ago, was convinced she found her Bollywood move-style happily ever after romance in Raj. Winnie had always been told that she would meet her soul mate before the age of 18 - a boy whose name started with the letter 'R,' and who would give her a silver bracelet - and Raj fit all of the necessary criteria. But something changed, namely the fact that Winnie returned from a summer at film camp to find out that Raj had hooked up with another girl. Now Winnie is determined to find her own destiny since the one that she always believed in has seemingly turned against her.

The Problem: Winnie's senior year is already off to a rocky start with Raj's betrayal, but then she finds out that the film club has a new faculty advisor, and one that is intent on enforcing a rule that would remove Winnie as chair of the film festival, a position she needs for her application to NYU's film program. And then there is Dev, a guy that was there before Winnie and Raj began dating, and has now made a welcome reappearance. While Winnie may be ready to move on from Raj, her mother and grandmother are still holding onto the prophecy. With near-constant warnings that fighting destiny only ends in disaster, Winnie wonders if giving up on Raj means giving up on her happily ever after. Or will it be enough to simply follow her heart and hope that everything works out?

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction novel set in and around Princeton, New Jersey during Winnie's senior year of high school. Written from the third-person omniscient point of view, the story follows Winnie as she deals with an ugly break-up, does her best to fulfill her film club duties, bites her tongue around her family, and also works through these new feelings she has for Dev. Every chapter begins with a short review of a Bollywood film from Winnie's blog, and she is able to relate almost every situation in her life to a moment or scenario from one of her favorite movies. She even begins to dream about one of Bollywood's biggest stars, Shah Rukh Khan, in strange settings as he gives her cryptic and cosmic advice. The only subject that rivals the mention of Bollywood movies is that of destiny and fate, as Winnie constantly struggles between going with what she has always believed, or trying to forge her own path, even if that means potentially making a massive mistake. It is the ever-present destiny vs free will debate, and Winnie draws on her propensity for high drama as she navigates it.

My Verdict: This book is pure fun. And drama. But the good kind of drama that is mostly fun. At the beginning I thought there was a good chance that Winnie was going to grate on my nerves, but then Dev saved the day by quickly and astutely pointing out to her that she has absolutely no common sense. After this assurance that I was not the only one who thought this about our heroine, things immediately got better. Winnie is smart, ambitious, and determined, but also silly and dramatic. And while I know next to nothing about Bollywood, I was not lost in the constant references. If anything, I was left with an admiration for Winnie's obsession and her ability to defend it against anyone who dared to say a bad thing about it. And while Winnie is her own brand of delightful, the supporting cast of characters are not bad either, even the villains. Are there some ridiculous moments? Oh sure. But even the massive Bollywood dance scene (yes, there is one) will have most cynics smiling.

Favorite Moment: Naturally, the massive Bollywood dance scene.

Favorite Character: Winnie's best friend Bridget is incredibly patient and supportive. For me, Winnie would be hard to keep up with, but Bridget manages without being a complete enabler.

Recommended Reading: Both From Twinkle, with Love and When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon seem obvious, but I'm going to go with it anyway.         

Friday, June 8, 2018

Young Adult Fiction: The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold

We are already at the second Friday of YA Fest and today will be all about The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold. I first decided to follow Arnold's work after reading Mosquitoland, and felt completely validated in that decision after reading his follow-up, Kids of Appetite. Arnold has a knack for portraying introspective young people attempting to deal with complicated relationships that most adults would have trouble with, but with the addition of a strange road trip, or a charismatic and troubled group of runaways, or a bizarre altered reality set to a soundtrack of David Bowie songs.

The Situation: It is the beginning of senior year for Noah Oakman, who admits to having obsessions, or what he prefers to call his "strange fascinations." There is the YouTube video of the girl who took a picture of herself every day for forty years; the photograph that was dropped in Noah's classroom by a guest speaker; the old man with a goiter that Noah sees walking every morning before school; and Noah's favorite book by is favorite author Mila Henry, Year of Me. Not listed among the strange fascinations is the life and music of David Bowie. Noah refers to himself as a David Bowie believer, and wears the same Bowie t-shirt everyday (he owns several of the same shirt, rotating between them). When not obsessing or at school, Noah spends his time with his two best friends, twins Val and Alan, and faking a back injury that keeps him off of the swim team. Future plans include everyone graduating but still staying fairly close to home, until Noah finds himself at a stranger's home, getting hypnotized.

The Problem: Ever since that night, ever since Noah followed Circuit (his real name) home, there have been some significant changes to his daily reality. Now Noah's mother has a scar on her face that was not there before; the family dog is no longer pathetic and useless; Alan is now an avid Marvel fan, when Noah has always known him to be into DC; and both twins are now talking about going to college in California instead of sticking close to home. The only things in Noah's life that appear to have not changed at all are his strange fascinations, as well as his sister Penny. Noah has no idea what is going on. Has he lost it? Or was he lost before and now things have finally righted themselves? He decides to find out, and ends up learning about himself in the process.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction novel set in and around the fictional suburb of Iverton, Illinois (though there is a real place called Riverton, Illinois). For the most part, Noah is a typical teenager in his final year of high school. He is somewhat particular about how he likes things organized, and perhaps is a bit more into cleanliness that teenage boys are generally believed to be. But he has a healthy amount of anxiety about the future, loves his friends and family, and even has a sport that he excels at, though he does not wish to pursue it. Also like most teenagers, or really most people in general, Noah has a tendency to get too caught up in his own head and look at everything only as it relates to him and his experience, which allows him to ignore the needs of those around him. According to his own description, the work of fictional author Mila Henry can be compared to that of Kurt Vonnegut, and other author's Noah appreciates include J.D. Salinger, Henry David Thoreau, and Haruki Murakami. While my experience with the work of Vonnegut is sadly quite lacking, I can definitely say there are elements of Noah's story that reminded me Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, especially when it comes to his interactions with his sister Penny. I also found myself thinking of Murakami's work, in particular the slightly altered reality in 1Q84, as well as the feeling of isolation that is present in many of the Japanese author's work, specifically Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Elements like these often made Noah's story a little like an Easter egg hunt. I found myself going to Google more than I normally would while reading, but it was more of a fun side quest than an annoying diversion. And if course, there are the many delightful mentions of the life and work of David Bowie.

My Verdict: When it comes to an Arnold book, there is always much more to the story than what is seen by the teen character that is telling it. Noah can only see as far as his own reality as he knows it, so the reader must go along for the ride as he tries to figure out the situation. And it certainly is a ride. As the reader, we get to go with Noah as he befriends a lonely old man and learns about his life. We also get to go backstage at a seedy local club and observe local musicians struggle to make it, while pretending that the struggle is not wearing them down. Unraveling the mystery of Noah's strange altered reality is certainly fun and entertaining, but I did have the nagging sense the entire time that I may be in for one of those 'he was dead the whole time' endings. Even so, I enjoyed gathering clues, taking notes of the small or sometimes big differences, interacting with Penny, and taking chances with Noah that he certainly would not have taken had his reality stayed what it was. 

Favorite Moment: There are two. The first is when new acquaintance Sara calls out Noah for the small number of women on his favorite authors list, as well as his need to compare his one favorite female author to a male. The second is when Noah admits that of course his dream girlfriend was something he made up only his mind.

Favorite Character: I like Sara a lot, mostly for the reason mentioned above. But I also like Noah's sister Penny and her insistence on being her. 

Recommended Reading: Outside of YA, I do recommend Murakami's 1Q84, and, to a lesser degree, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. And within YA, both Mosquitoland and Kids of Appetite are no brainers.