Review Friday: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

38255342The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by: Kiersten White

Released: September 25 2018

Pages: 304

Rating: * * * *

Goodreads

Amazon

 

 

Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.

As an English major, I’ve encountered the story of Frankenstein, and it’s many variations, more times than I can count. And in most of these variations, spin-offs, retellings, etc., two things tend to pop up: Victor Frankenstein is a dark, broody, dream-boat that we’re supposed to swoon over and root for, and the age-old question “who really is the monster here?” It’s been done ad nauseam at this point, and I figured that this novel would be just another to add to the list.

I was wrong.

This is, in all actuality, Elizabeth’s story, which is the best. In the original, she is Victor’s cousin and future wife, and plays a very small role, which I was always bitter about. I always wanted to get more insight into the major players in Victor’s life, and how they interacted with him, and how they humanized him, and whatnot. So, it was a joy that this book is so very much about Elizabeth, and her journey. And what a brilliant character she is. She’s so far from the typical love interests that we see in these different takes on Victor Frankenstein. She’s not a damsel. She’s not an angel. She’s not a sweet darling. She’s a beautifully complex, and grey, character. Sure, she has a good side, we all do. She’s a fiercely loyal friend, she fights for the underdog, and she can be very loving. But this is a girl who knows what it means to struggle. She understands that, basically, her entire life hinges on making people like her, and take care of her, and she has no problem keeping that at the full-front of her mind. She has no problem laying on the charm to keep her options open. Her survival depends on it. So even when we see her make some maybe-not-so-sweet decisions, we find it hard to fault her for it. She’s just a girl trying to escape a life of poverty, abuse, and misery. How can you blame her for that?

The portrayal of Victor Frankenstein in this version is everything I’ve ever wanted. From the get go, we understand that Victor is not right. The way he behaves is not okay. He’s not tall, dark, and brooding. He’s wrong. Just, naturally, fundamentally, and intrinsically wrong. We’re not supposed to see him as this romantic, misunderstood boy, even if that’s how Elizabeth sees him. We’re supposed to believe that this is unhealthy, and it’s set up that way immediately, which I appreciate so much. It makes both of them, Victor and Elizabeth, far more interesting characters, and it makes reading the novel that much more intriguing, and thought provoking. It keeps the reader on the edge of their seat, not in an action-y way, but in an emotional way. There are moments where we see Elizabeth’s humanizing affects on Victor, and we might find ourselves slipping, and rooting for this relationship to work, but then Victor will do or say something, and it’ll knock us right back into “this boy is not right.”

Where my feelings on this novel get a little confusing is here: this novel is very much about an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship. And while I love that about the novel, because it makes the story so complex, and it’s such an important topic to talk about, especially in teen fiction, I also find it so hard to read. Because I was in a emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship. So, often times while reading this, probably more than most other people will, I found myself siding with Victor, or with Elizabeth when she’s making unhealthy decisions, just for Victor’s benefit. Then I’d have to stop myself and say, “No, this is unhealthy. I’m not supposed to be supporting this.” And that was hard for me sometimes. But, in saying that, I can admit that this was a very real, and accurate depiction of what being in a relationship like this is like. Yes, part of why Elizabeth makes some of these choices lies in her desire to stay off the streets, but it’s also equally just about Victor, and wanting to keep him happy, and make him love her. And that’s so toxic, and damaging. But it’s real, and it’s important to talk about, and I’m so glad that Kiersten covered it here, and that she did it so well.

This book, while hard for me to get through here and there, was so beautifully done. You can tell that it was painstakingly researched, and that Kiersten has a deep love for the story. The writing was lush, and poetic, but also brutal, and harsh. She did a fantastic job of marrying so many different moving parts: Elizabeth’s journey to self-reliance, Victor’s horror story, the mystery, the happy moments, the gruesome moments. All of it. Also, the friendships in this novel were outstanding. The girl love was so sweet, and genuine, I found myself smiling so wide whenever Elizabeth and Justine, or Elizabeth and Mary, were on the page together. Elizabeth and Henry’s relationship was also wonderful. It very easily could’ve devolved into the tropey love-triangle we’re all sick-to-death of, but it didn’t. It was handled just right, and I loved it.

This is, by far, the best re-telling of this story that I’ve ever read. Except for my own personal issues about the topic, which is of no-fault of Kiersten’s, this book was perfection, and I will absolutely be recommending it to anyone looking for more Frankenstein stories.

Advertisements

Review Friday: Check, Please!: #Hockey

37534577Check, Please!: #Hockey by: Ngozi Ukazu

Released: September 18th 2018

Pages: 288

Rating: * * * *

Goodreads

Amazon

Helloooo, Internet Land. Bitty here!

Y’all… I might not be ready for this. I may be a former junior figure skating champion, vlogger extraordinaire, and very talented amateur pâtissier, but being a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team is a whole new challenge. It’s nothing like co-ed club hockey back in Georgia! First of all? There’s checking. And then, there is Jack—our very attractive but moody captain.

A collection of the first half of the megapopular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: #Hockey is the first book of a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

So, if you’ve somehow managed to a.) be active on social media, and b.) not heard of this series: YOU ARE A WIZARD.

Like, no joke. I’ve seen this webcomic ALL OVER THE PLACE for the longest time, and I always intended on trying to read it, but I’m just, I don’t know, not into webcomics? Not the idea, or stories, or anything like that. After all, Nimona by: Noelle Stevenson is my all-time favorite stand-alone graphic novel, and it started as a webcomic. But, I’m talking about the actual “reading a comic on a computer” thing. I’m just too easily distracted. So, I never read them. Which is such a shame on my part, because I know I’m missing out on so many AMAZING things for such a silly reason. And this is one of those amazing things.

We follow Eric Bittle (Bitty), a closeted, ex-figure skater, and pie baker extraordinaire, from the south who starts vlogging about his first year at Samwell University, and his journey in joining the hockey team. We watch as Bitty learns all about this complex sport, his fellow teammates, and their dreamboat of a captain. It’s filled with hilarity, heartwarming moments, emotional struggle, and good ole fashioned dudes hitting dudes while on ice. It’ll make your heart feel as warm and full as one of Bitty’s famous apple pies.

Okay, so, this is probably the most straight-up, feel-good, fluffy, heartwarming, squee-inducing thing ever. Like, it just is. This book is everything you were ever hoping for when you typed “fluff fic” into the search bar on FanFiction.net or AO3. It’s gonna make you smile, it’s gonna make you laugh, it’s gonna make you go “AWEEEEEEEEE!!!” It’s a given. Bitty is an incredibly charming, relatable, funny, and ADORABLE character. All the side characters have these really cute personality quirks, and micro sub-plots that you get a little too invested in for your own good, and they’re hilarious, and ADORABLE. The story is simple, straight forward, and fun. It’s just, it’s a good time. Like, I don’t know how anyone could possibly NOT enjoy this.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s without its flaws. And really, you can boil them all down to one thing: MORE. I wanted MORE of EVERYTHING. I wanted more backstory about Bitty, more interactions with the side characters, more of the backstory of the side characters, more interactions between Bitty and Jack, more hockey, more EVERYTHING. It really felt like we were just getting little tastes, and tidbits, of everything, but never enough to be fully satisfied. This graphic novel covers two whole years of Bitty’s school experience, and it’s just, way too short. I know that there’s still more to go, I just wish that this had been more fleshed out.

Like I said, I don’t think that this was bad in any way. It was the reading equivalent of eating a cupcake, or a cookie. How do you NOT enjoy that? But I can see people being disappointed in it. I can understand people being upset that there isn’t enough cupcake or cookie. Or that the cupcake or cookie was too small. But, I would still recommend that everyone go out and read this book (and I have!). Go out and eat the cupcake or cookie. Even if it’s tiny. It’s still gonna be awesome.

Review Friday: Circe.

35959740Circe by: Madeline Miller

Released: April 10th 2018

Pages: 394

Rating: * * * * *

Goodreads

Amazon

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Look, if this novel doesn’t make you want to rip out a man’s still-beating heart, and take over the entire world by the time you’re done with it? I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

We follow the life of Circe, wayward daughter of the mightiest of the Titans, Helios the Sun God. In a world where you are either beautiful, or powerful: Circe is neither. Or at least, that’s what all the other Gods think. But oh how wrong they are. We watch as Circe becomes a true force to be reckoned with. We watch as she interacts with this cast of characters that we’ve all heard the epic stories of, and how she forever changes each one of them. We watch her take what was never allowed to be hers. We watch her carve out a place for herself where others swore she would never belong. We see how the very first, and best, witch came to be. And it is so incredible.

This book is just, so freaking empowering. I literally felt like I could dismantle the entire patriarchy, BY MYSELF, the whole time I was reading it. And not just because Circe was herself being a bad-ass 100% of the time, cause she did have moments of weakness, but that’s when I wanted to burn things to the ground to protect her. That’s the kind of emotion that Miller was able to make me feel for this character. And that is incredible. And it’s not just Circe that Miller manages to make this larger-than-life, actually-feel-like-you-can-reach-out-and-touch-them character, either. Odyssesus, Daedalus, Aeëtes, Pasiphaë. They all effortlessly pop off the page. Miller just manages to create this incredibly intimate atmosphere over the course of this novel that makes you feel like you’re just standing in the corner of the room as each one of the scenes unfold. It really is unlike anything else I’ve ever read, and I’m hooked.

Of course, it was fun to see all of these characters that, for the most part, only got a mere mention in the tales of old get fleshed out so much more. And the story is an incredibly empowering one. But it’s not an easy read by any means. Circe’s story is filled with strife, and heartbreak, and violence. There is a rape scene in this novel, so be prepared for that. But even when the violence isn’t overt, it’s always there. Miller shows us just about every way imaginable that one can attack a woman, and bring her low, and it can definitely take it’s toll. But, as I mentioned, it is so empowering and inspiring to watch Circe face each one of these attacks, and come out the other side that much stronger for having survived it. It sends such a beautiful message, and I am 100% here for it.

There’s so much I want to say about how amazing this novel is, but I just don’t know how to put it into words. And trust me, I’ve been mulling it over for quite some time now. It’s just one of those books that really gets to your emotions, on a really deep level, and words just can’t explain what those feelings are. It’s just something you have to experience. So, I HIGHLY recommend that you go out and experience it for yourself. It’s absolutely worth it.

Review Friday: Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree

9780062696724_572a4Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by: Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Released: September 4th 2018

Pages: 336

Rating: * * * *

Goodreads

Amazon

On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls. Some managed to escape. Many are still missing. A new pair of shoes, a university degree, a husband—these are the things that a girl dreams of in a Nigerian village. A girl who works hard in school and to help her family. A girl with a future as bright as live coals in the dark. And with a government scholarship right around the corner, everyone—her mother, her five brothers, her best friend, her teachers—can see that these dreams aren’t too far out of reach. Even if the voices on Papa’s radio tell more fearful news than tales to tell by moonlight.

But the girl’s dreams turn to nightmares when her village is attacked by Boko Haram, a terrorist group, in the middle of the night. Kidnapped, she is taken with other girls and women into the forest where she is forced to follow her captors’ radical beliefs and watch as her best friend slowly accepts everything she’s been told. Still, the girl defends her existence. As impossible as escape may seem, her life—her future—is hers to fight for.

I believe I’m not too far off when I say that: most Americans have very little knowledge about Boko Haram. This includes myself. Sure, we heard news clips here and there: terrorist cell, missing girls, rising death count, bad. But that’s about it. We had no idea where these people came from, what they wanted, the full extent of what horrors they were inflicting on these people. None of it. So when I saw the synopsis for this novel, I requested it immediately. I wanted to begin to understand.

This novel follows the story of an unnamed girl living in a Nigerian village with her family. Over the course of the book, we get to see glimpses of what her life is like before, during, and shortly after the rise of Boko Haram, and what affects it has had on, not only her life, but the lives of everyone she knows, and the home that she loves.

This novel is hard. Not only because the events that are discussed in the book are difficult to read about, but because the knowledge that, this happened, IS happening, right under our noses, and so very little is being done on our side of it. These people are being brutalized, and murdered. These young girls are being taken, brainwashed, raped, and killed. And most people in American probably wouldn’t even know what Boko Haram is if you asked them. This is a very difficult pill to swallow. What is being done to help these people? Are we just leaving them to fend off these terrorists by themselves? What about these girls? What are we doing to try and get them back? Anything? It’s all so very heartbreaking.

There were several, very deliberate choices made in the telling of this story, that made it work so very well. One of them being the aforementioned namelessness of the main character. This really conveyed the message that, this could could be ANY girl in Nigeria’s story. That it is the harsh truth of MANY girls from Nigeria. It’s not just one, particular instance, or experience. It’s the story of many. It’s a story that many girls will never get to tell, because we will never hear their voices again. Another choice was that of the very short chapters. The author didn’t spend great lengths of time describing things. She gave us glimpses. This made the story feel more authentic. It made us feel like we were actually there, living life along side this young girl. It also made the horror feel that much more real. We didn’t need long, drawn out explanations of the brutality being done to these people. This violence is being done quick, and methodically. The narrative does a very good job of conveying this to the reader.

I also appreciated how, after the novel was finished, the author’s translator went into detail explaining: how Boko Haram came into power, what was being done to help find the stolen girls, how she became involved with the project, etc. It really just showed how much both, the translator and the author, care about this topic, and how much care they put into getting this story just right.

This novel isn’t an easy one to get through, but it’s so very important. What is happening to these people is horrendous, and should be discussed, and learned about, and dealt with. And, even without the horrors, this novel was still so informative. I learned so much about Nigerian culture from this novel, that I never would’ve known had I not picked up this book, which is also very important. This is a story that everyone should read, and learn from, and act on. Stories like this exist so that these voices will be heard, and so that these atrocities can be stopped, and prevented. We need to listen, and act. We need to do better.

 

Review Friday: And the Ocean Was Our Sky

36979356And the Ocean Was Our Sky by: Patrick Ness and Rovina Cai

Released: September 4 2018

Pages: 160

Rating: * * * * *

Goodreads

Amazon

 

 

With harpoons strapped to their backs, the proud whales of Bathsheba’s pod live for the hunt, fighting in the ongoing war against the world of men. When they attack a ship bobbing on the surface of the Abyss, they expect to find easy prey. Instead, they find the trail of a myth, a monster, perhaps the devil himself…

As their relentless Captain leads the chase, they embark on a final, vengeful hunt, one that will forever change the worlds of both whales and men.

Patrick Ness is one of my all-time favorite authors. He has such an amazing way of crafting the most intricate and thought provoking stories, and the most memorable and complex characters. He blows me away every time. So when I saw that he was writing a new book, one that took an interesting spin on one of my favorite classics, AND had beautiful illustrations? I didn’t waste any time getting my hands on it.

This retelling flips Moby Dick upside-down. Literally. We follow a young whale, Bathsheba, and her hunting pod as they attempt to track down, and destroy, the notorious whale killer – Toby Wick. It explores the complexity of what it means to survive in a world where it’s hunt, or be hunted. It delves into what separates us, from our enemies. It’s phenomenal. I expected nothing less.

As I’ve said before in reviews of Ness’s work: he’s a genius when it comes to writing humans. And I guess now, whales. He understands on such a deep level how complex people are, and he always makes an effort to explore that in great detail in his work. I truly think that this is his best work, when it comes to that. The way that we never truly knew where to stand in this novel – we were never sure who was “right” – was absolutely fantastic. Also, the way that power, in it’s many shapes and forms, was tackled in this novel was also brilliant. The way that physical prowess and might, and the power of rumor, myth, and prophecy, come to a head in this novel, is just beautiful.

Now, I’m reviewing an ARC of this, so much of the artwork within is incomplete. But from what little is present in the ARC? It’s going to be out of this world. Cai’s illustrations have such an ethereal quality to them, one that matches the tone that Ness adopts to tell this tale, so well. I just know that, when the artwork is completed, it’s only going to take this already amazing story, to an even more amazing place.

A gripe I have about this book is with Toby Wick. I understand that he’s supposed to be an embodiment of all these abstract ideas. But I felt like he, himself, was too abstract? Maybe this will change when the final version, with all the completed artwork, comes out, but I just had a hard time grasping what he was, which made the climax of this novel kind of hard to follow. Another thing I found a little bit of an issue with was Demetrius. We see that, over time, Bathsheba grows this very deep connection to this boy, but we don’t really get to know him all that well. It kind of makes the connection feel a little forced, or like it’s just, too much. I wish we had just gotten to see his character fleshed out a bit more.

Really, I believe that Ness is saying amazing things with this novel. Moby Dick was always a classic that I loved to cover in school because of how many interesting and complex themes and messages it covered. Ness takes one of those themes, and really runs away with it here, and it’s stunning.

Review Friday: Giant Days

39507199Giant Days by: Non Pratt

Released: August 12 2018

Pages: 288

Rating: * * * *

Goodreads

Amazon

 

 

Based on the hit graphic-novel series from BOOM! Studios, the publisher behind Lumberjanes, Giant Days follows the hilarious and heartfelt misadventures of three university first-years: Daisy, the innocent home-schooled girl; Susan, the sardonic wit; and Esther, the vivacious drama queen. While the girls seem very different, they become fast friends during their first week of university. And it’s a good thing they do, because in the giant adventure that is college, a friend who has your back is key–something Daisy discovers when she gets a little too involved in her extracurricular club, the Yogic Brethren of Zoise. When she starts acting strange and life around campus gets even stranger (missing students, secret handshakes, monogrammed robes everywhere . . .), Esther and Susan decide it’s up to them to investigate the weirdness and save their friend.

I read the first Giant Days graphic novel around a year ago, and loved how absolutely charming it was. The story was funny and light, the artwork was beautiful, and the characters were just delightful. So, imagine my excitement when I heard that a novelization of the comics was coming out! I was excited to see how much more fleshed out the characters, and the story, and the setting could be when given an entire novel to play around with, instead of just one comic issue, and I was not disappointed.

The story focuses on three best friends, and their first year at university. Esther is the goth queen of darkness (but with a heart of gold), Daisy is the sheltered, sweet, and shy one, and Susan is the sarcastic, prickly-pear of the group (but she’ll cut you if you mess with her friends). We follow each of the girls as they struggle to find their place at school, all the while dealing with everything that do, and maybe a few things that don’t, come with living on campus, and being a freshman in college.

The real star of this show is the characters. Each girl is very unique in her own way, and her voice is very distinctive from the other. Considering how each of the girls can be classified into typical archetypes (the goth, the hippie, and the feminist), they never felt like an archetype, or a trope. Each girls personality really popped off the page, and made them stand out. And even though they are all so very different, you find yourself relating to each one so much. The things that each girl went through and struggled with, even though they were doing so in their own little niche group, are something that any young adult, going out into the world on their own for the first time, can relate to. College is hard. Making brand new friends, in a brand new environment, is hard. Finding a place where you feel like you belong, when you’re not even entirely sure who you are, is hard. And these girls really get to the heart of that.

Another thing that really made the girls stand out, was their flaws. All of these girls had me shaking my head, cringing, and feeling disappointed in them, at some point in the novel. Like I said earlier, college is all about finding out who you are, and where you belong. It’s inevitable: you’re going to mess up. You’re going to hurt your friends. The important thing to remember is to fix your mistakes. The girls all mess up and hurt each other, but they manage to correct themselves, and make it right with each other. And even when they are messing up, it’s still easy to understand how they got there. Even when they’re not being their best selves, it’s still easy to relate to them. Which is always a good sign of a great character.

As for the plot? It’s just really fun. Sure, some of it might be lost on people who’ve never experienced the very surreal experience that is College Life, but I think that’s to be expected. And even still, it’s a fun ride to watch, and might even prepare future university students to what is awaiting them in the land of Higher Education.

Also: McGraw. Just, everything about McGraw. Just, yes. People, if you manage to get a McGraw in your life: sink your claws in and never let go. This has been a PSA.

While it’s not necessary to read the comics before reading this novel, I think I would recommend it. If only because you get such a good feel of what the characters look like, and what their cute, little, physical quirks are, which really just make them feel that much more real. Also, the comics are just great.

I really loved this book. It’s not often that I come across a YA book that focuses on college-aged protagonists, and even rarer that it’s done so accurately. This book will have you feeling so many different things, each one hitting the heart-strings in just the right way. It’s just a really fun, funny, wholesome story about friendship, and self-discovery, and who doesn’t love that?

Review Friday: Between Shades of Gray

7824322-1Between Shades of Gray by: Ruta Sepetys

Released: March 22 2011

Pages: 344

Rating: * * * * *

Goodreads

Amazon

 

 

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

Let me preface this entire review by saying this: Ruta Sepetys is one of my f*cking heroes. She really is. No Lie. The work that she is doing for history is, so important, I can’t even begin to explain. Not matter what you think of her books, from a craft point of view, never forget the importance that her work carries outside of the world of literature. She is educating the world about forgotten tragedies, and giving a voice to the silenced. Never forget that, and never undermine it.

With all that being said, let’s get to the actual novel.

This story follows Lina, a young Lithuanian girl who, overnight, finds herself forcefully taken from her home, tossed onto a cattle car, and taken away from everything she’s ever known and loved. She’s now a criminal of Stalin’s USSR, on her way to a labor camp in the frozen wasteland of Siberia. We watch as Lina, her mother, her brother, and many others, struggle to survive the atrocities being done to them, and around them, and still hold on to who they are.

Yet again, I’ve been brutally reminded of just how much the American education system has failed me, in regards to history. I had absolutely no idea that any of this had occurred. Even with all of my fascination and passion in studying the WWII era, I’d never heard of Stalin’s genocide of the Baltic people. And the horror of it, really is hard to wrap your mind around. The idea of so many people being loaded on to trains, and traveling so far, and actually trying (and in some cases succeeding) to survive in an environment as uninhabitable as frozen Siberia? It’s just, near impossible to imagine. And that’s not even mentioning all the brutality, and abuse, and torture that the people had to endure by the Soviets. It’s so unthinkable, but it happened. And if it weren’t for this book, I never would’ve known. Because the schools don’t teach it. And it’s disgusting.

As with Sepetys most recent novel, Salt to the Sea, she is unflinching with her portrayal of these atrocities, and you can really tell that she has taken painstaking time to research these events, and pay the proper respect that the topic, and its victims and survivors, deserve. She is a true lover of history. You can see it in every word on the page.

While I adored this book, it wasn’t with out its flaws. Well, really just one: Lina. While Lina was a lovely girl, and I really enjoyed her voice, I agree with the critiques that I’ve seen others make: she’s a very passive character. So much happens to Lina, but not much is done by Lina. This is made much more obvious when one looks at the characters around her – her mother, her brother, Andrius – and how very proactive they are. I understand that she’s young, and that this is a terrible situation, and I don’t expect her to be a hero, but it would’ve been nice to see her have a little bit more agency throughout the novel.

And I also agree with my fellow critics in that: Elena was the real hero of this novel. The strength, and perseverance, and just overwhelming goodness of that woman, was just an amazing thing to read about. Even in the most terrible moments of the novel, I found myself thinking “Everything’s going to be okay. Because Elena is there.” Which I think was entirely the point of Elena’s character. She made my heart bleed. She’s not one I’m going to forget any time soon.

Really, I can’t express how grateful I am to Ruta for writing this novel. I am now actively searching out more reading material on this subject, and am hoping to unearth some documentaries along the way as well. I want to learn about this. I want to hear these silenced voices, and raise them up. I want to make sure that this is never forgotten or glossed over again. This was a tragedy. This was horrific. This needs to be remembered, and learned from.