“The Symptoms of My Insanity”—A Book Review

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The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf…to be perfectly honest, I’m not totally sure what I thought about it.

This book starts out in the fashion of the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison. Thus, I began this novel with the mindset that it was going to be hilarious and have me laughing the whole way through. For example, when the story begins, the main character, Izzy, is in a fitting room at a lingerie store getting fitted for new bras, having already outgrown the ones she got at the start of the school year:

“Mom’s always saying how I look just like dad’s mom, Grandma Rose, when she was sixteen. She dug up and showed me an old picture of her and, she’s right, I do. Which wouldn’t be so bad except that now Grandma Rose is a four-foot-ten-inch-tall, eighty-three-year-old woman with gargantuan breasts that take over her entire bra-less body. Really, I should just bolt out of Lola’s Lingerie right now. What’s the point of spending money on bras when I’m going to end up a short, eighty-three-year-old woman with dangle boobs?”

Funny, right? And you get the impression right away that Izzy’s mom is one of those Stepford Moms that won’t be caught dead without her lip gloss applied and her hair perfect, expecting every girl in school to be perfect models of “young ladies.” So of course, she’s horrified when a rumor goes around school about a girl giving head in one of the bathroom stalls. To which Izzy (as follows with the humor at the start of the book) replies:

“Yes Mom, it’s true. All the girls at school pleasure boys in the bathroom stalls. How else are we supposed to get them to like us?”

But the thing is, I guess I felt like I was mislead into reading this novel. The “funny” wears off quickly and the book takes a dramatic turn. You soon find out that Izzy’s mom has a rare stomach cancer and because of this (and her mom not actually talking to her about her illness), Izzy is a bit of a hypochondriac. Anytime she feels even a little “off,” she automatically jumps to the conclusion that something is horribly wrong with her and that she has one of the diseases that she’s read about on the internet. Izzy’s hypochondria is so bad that several times she mistakes a simple panic attack for some life threatening illness.

“Why am I so dizzy? Why can’t I get in a good breath? I shuffle through what I know. Hypoglycemia? Lyme? Or no—oh, no. Breast lumps metastasizing? If I feel this sick, it has to be in advanced stages. Okay no, just relax, breathe. You can breathe.

Like I said, it stopped being funny pretty early on. There is a lot of school drama and some good heartfelt coming-of-age stuff, but because I felt falsely lead in to reading a comedy that isn’t really a comedy, I found myself not really wanting to read it anymore. I kind of had to make myself finish it.

All in all, I give this book 3 stars. It was a pretty decent book, I was just looking for something that this book was not.

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“The Beautiful Between”—A Book Review

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The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B. Sheinmel is a beautifully told story.

Connelly’s dad died when she was two. Her mom won’t tell her how, and because of the icy response got when she was in third grade, she hasn’t asked again since. And ever since that night, her mom has been distant; the nightly ice cream in bed while watching TV snuggles have stopped. These two women just kind of coexist in the same high-rise apartment in the heart of glamorous NYC, having very little actual interaction with each other.

“My mother and I never fight. I can’t remember any major fights or childhood tantrums. She never assigned me a curfew and I never came home late until the other night, after Brent’s party, and then she didn’t ask where I’d been. We get along fine this way.”

And so, having lived this way since she was a little girl, Connelly developed a way of living that helped her cope with life and with the answers she doesn’t have—answers that don’t seem likely she will ever receive. Connelly views her entire life as a fairytale. After that fateful night, as a curious eight-year-old (when she made the wrong decision to ask her mother how her dad died), she created an imaginary fairy godmother to keep her company and to keep her safe. She lied to the kids at school and told them her parents were divorced to make up for the embarrassing lack of information she had about her dad.

And so, Connelly lives in her fairytale world, seeing high school as fairytale kingdom, where Jeremy Cole is the prince, and she is Rapunzel, locked away in a tower. These imaginary scenarios are how Connelly has gotten along for so long that when Jeremy Cole breaks into her life, offering to tutor her in Physics in exchange for SAT vocab help, she almost doesn’t know how to handle life anymore.

It isn’t until she and Jeremy start to become close friends and she sees the way Jeremy interacts with his close, loving family that Connelly even really starts to question her mother. She begins to truly wonder why she has kept any information regarding her dead father away from her for so long—making Connelly afraid to even ask about him.

“Maybe the witch thought she was protecting Rapunzel, not punishing her. Maybe she thought that if Rapunzel was locked away, no one could ever hurt her. Maybe the witch kept Rapunzel because she loved her, because she was scared that if other people could get to Rapunzel, they would hurt her. And maybe Rapunzel didn’t understand the witch; maybe she was angry at her—but maybe she loved her too.”

Over the semester, Connelly finds an unexpected best friend in the most popular boy in school. At first, she continues her fairytale analogies, wondering why the beloved prince would pay attention to the lowly peasant. But the truth soon reveals itself: Jeremy seeks solace in Connelly’s company and perhaps she is the only one that can help him find comfort.

As the duo spend more and more time together, Connelly finds herself living less in her fantasy world and more in the real world:

 “I’ve always fantasized about something or other before I could fall asleep, played a fairy tale in my head to entertain myself. But I haven’t for a while now.”

Stunningly narrated, this book reminds you how important communication is. Things that go unsaid can eat a person up inside. While fantasies can be great, even though it can be harsh at times, the real world is always a better place for truly living.

I give this quick, but thoughtful, coming-of-age story five out of five stars!

“The Fault in Our Stars”—A Book RAVE!

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“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” –Hazel Graze, a character in The Fault in Our Stars

^ That is exactly the way I feel about The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I just got finished REreading this book, yet again, and let me tell you…it only gets better.

Ever since I discovered the book Looking for Alaska in an Adolescent Literature course I took while attending college at LSU (Louisiana State University), I have been obsessed with anything written by John Green. Seriously, the man is a snarky nerd god! I am also still quite convinced that he should leave his wife and kid for me…just sayin’.

Up until The Fault in Our Stars came out a little over a year ago, Paper Towns was my favorite novel by John Green, but it can’t even hold a candle to his most recent literary marvel. I seriously don’t know how he does it, but he can take the crappiest subject in the world (childhood cancer) and somehow make you laugh about it…and not in an “I’m a horrible person because I’m laughing about adolescents having cancer” kind of way.

In The Fault in Our Stars, we follow sixteen-year-old Hazel (or Hazel Grace as Augustus Waters likes to refer to her), as she trudges on through life with the knowledge that she has terminal cancer, and will die soon…the successful “miracle” experimental medication she is on is basically just giving her a few more years until she “bites it.”

Having already gotten her GED, Hazel has become a complete shut-in, only venturing out a few hours a week to attend college classes at the local community college. But her mom is convinced that Hazel needs to get out more and live what life she has left to the fullest. It’s because of this that Hazel is forced to attend a youth Support Group in the basement of a church, which the Support Group leader refers to as “the heart of Jesus.”

It is in Support Group that Hazel meets Augustus. She is immediately taken by his good looks, and quickly becomes smitten with his snark and charm…the fact that he only has one “real” leg (the other taken by Osteosarcoma, doesn’t bother her at all—I mean, she has to wheel around an oxygen tank everywhere because her lungs suck at being lungs, thanks to the cancer nodes residing in them). But the fact that these kids have—or have had—cancer doesn’t mean that their since of humor is gone:

“We are literally in the heart of Jesus,” he said. “I thought we were in a church basement, but we are literally in the heart of Jesus.”

“Someone should tell Jesus,” I said. “I mean, it’s gotta be dangerous, storing children with cancer in your heart.”

 

It is with such wit that the book continues. Like, seriously, it will have you laughing out loud just about every other page (again, I reiterate the fact that John Green is a nerd god). And the book isn’t all puppies and unicorns farting rainbows—it actually does illuminate the crappiness of their circumstances. These kids do get extremely pissed about having cancer—and not just about how their cancer effects them, but their family and loved ones as well. They have horrible thoughts and meltdowns and tantrums, just like anybody would:

“There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer.”

“I told Augustus the broad outline of my miracle: diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer when I was thirteen. (I didn’t tell him that the diagnosis came three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You’re a woman. Now die.)It was, we were told, incurable.”

Just trust me when I say that you ABSOLUTELY cannot miss reading this book. For reals, your life will not be complete until you do. So do it, do it now!

This book, hands down, gets twenty-eight out of five stars!

 

“Okay?”

“Okay.”