The Week in Books

This week went surprisingly quickly. In the way that four-day work weeks after a Monday holiday feel especially long because of the expectation that they will feel nice and short, this week felt short because I expected it to feel long because of the awful autoimmune flare-up from corn contamination. Despite certain hours and days that dragged as I fought through brutal symptoms, the week as a whole moved at a pleasantly moderate clip. We ended up not having a full snow day together on Wednesday as had been predicted, but Ben’s office did close early in light of the icy wintery mix and snow. The precipitation began as snow, but abruptly changed to sleet in the mid-afternoon. It made for a thick-crusted snow and slippery walking conditions.

I’m glad that Friday has rolled around again. I don’t have many plans this weekend per usual, but I really need to slow down and rest so I can not overtax my inflamed body. It seems like it will be a good weekend for writing and working on puzzles, though I have work for my job to do as well. We also need to make progress on gathering all of our tax documents.

I’ve read several interesting young adult books this week, one per day. On Monday, I read The Other Wes Moore, a powerful memoir that considers two young men by the same name who grew up in similar neighborhoods and difficult circumstances. One (the author) grows up, attends military school, becomes a Rhodes Scholar, and has a successful life. The other young man ends up receiving a lifetime prison sentence for a murder charge. I couldn’t relate well to either character (though this is pretty typical as I struggle with Theory of Mind), which often deters me from continuing a book. However, I appreciated how the story made me consider the domino effect of choices we make, how we manifest our destiny versus what is a product of chance, and how fortunate I am to have had the privileges, support, and opportunities I have had throughout my life. I think a good book makes you feel something, learn something, or think about something. This did the first and last by reminding me of all the beautiful things in my life that I’m eternally grateful for and sparking me to consider the ramifications of one choice.

On Tuesday, I read Annie on My Mind. This young adult book is about a friendship that forms between two high school seniors in New York City, one (the narrator) from Brooklyn Heights who attends a private school with her brother, and the other from a poor neighborhood in northern Manhattan who lives music, singing, and plants. Their friendship develops into a physical relationship that isn’t just about experimentation, which the narrator’s mother wants to believe, but instead about true love. The narrator’s character ends up encountering a lot of homophobia and threats from her school about the “wrongfulness” of her amorous relationship, and she’s caught deciding what to lie about to appease people and what to defend. I enjoy coming-of-age books, and I appreciate the process that young people go through in discovering their sexuality and learning to be proud of who they are. There were aspects of both characters in that book that I could relate to and I always enjoy reading books that take place in New York City since it was my home during seven of my identity-forming years.

I stuck with this theme of burgeoning sexuality in adolescence on Wednesday when I read One Man Guy. This story also takes place outside of Manhattan (with many trips into the city). It centers around high schooler Alek, an Armenian-American who lives with his parents and brother in New Jersey. His parents are fairly traditional and hold Alek to high moral and academic standards. After failing to earn grades sufficient to qualify him for the honors track at school, Alek must attend summer school mandated by his parents to improve his grades. He ends up meeting a slightly older and much more irreverent guy, Ethan, who Alek discovers is gay. He had never considered his own sexual identity before, but as the two guys start spending time together (ditching summer school and exploring the city), Alek develops feelings for Ethan. The book deals with Alek coming to terms with his sexuality and disappointing his parents. Though initially he fears he’s let them down because of who he loves, he discovers they are only angry with him for the choices he made in cutting school, lying to them, disobeying their rules, and in doing so, disrespecting them. There were wise lessons for parents and teenagers in this one, and a heartwarming ending for the character who has endeared himself to the readers over the story. It tackles the difficulties in coming out to parents who may not be supportive of what they might consider to be an “improper” relationship. Alex’s older brother is in love with a fellow Armenian woman, which is technically the only type of spouse his parents will condone. The young woman discovers she is actually half Turkish and this, too, results in issues for his parents.

Thursday’s story, Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature, dealt with the incompatibility between creationism and the theory of evolution. The protagonist is a high schooler from a conservative church and deeply religious family. The book opens with her ousting from her Christian church and near disowning by her parents because she had written a letter of apology to a boy’s family after their son killed himself because he was bullied and made to feel unlovable in the eyes of “God” by the girl’s group of church friends because of his perceived sexuality. She has lost her friends and everyone, including her parents, seem to hate her. She ends up befriending her intelligent science partner and finding solace in science class because of his friendship as an oasis in her otherwise isolated life. She has to make decisions about truthfulness versus potential happiness when navigating her parents’ conservative values and her developing beliefs and relationships. It’s another book about developing one’s identity, questioning values, and developing morals and beliefs independent of those indoctrinated by parents. It obviously also touches on hatred for “otherness,” which is one of my most sacred, uncompromisable morals. It is never, ever okay to hate someone because of a perceived or real difference, nor is it acceptable to consider that individual is “less than,” “damaged,” “needing-to-be-changed,” or “unworthy.”

The book I’ve started today deviates from the young adult audience, and I guess is what would be considered a more age-appropriate adult novel. While I’m certainly older than the target audience of young adult books and am a good ten to fifteen years older than those protagonists, I still relate to them and enjoy thinking through the strife and feelings of those ages. In many ways, they aren’t struggles that are unique to adolescence; some of them transcend throughout life. Admittedly, I also feel like I’m a blend of a child, adolescent, young adult, and senior citizen all in one body. My maturity and emotions span the gamut and I find meaning in identifying with all of these aspects of myself.

Anyway, today’s book is A Million Little Things. I’m only about halfway through the novel, but it weaves a complicated web of friendships, familial relationships, and love in a cast of interrelated characters in various life stages and facing different struggles. One of my constant struggles in books and movies is keeping characters straight and understanding their connections. This is one of the reasons I gravitate towards young adult books; their structure and characterization is much simpler. The layers of complexity of the characters and their relationships are often much richer in media geared towards adults. It’s not something that comes natural for me. I really can’t keep people straight unless there is constant reinforcement or reminders or if they are starkly different. For example, it took me a good couple of episodes of NBC’s This Is Us to understand the relationships and the jumping back and forth between past and present with the characters. Needless to say, I’m struggling a bit with that in this book so far, but I’m about at the point where it’s finally clicking. I think I’m enjoying it so far and look forward to finishing it tonight.

I usually read less on the weekends because I’m talking with Ben and otherwise substituting that recreational activity with others. I do look forward to Sundays though, as that’s the day I sit down and peruse the library catalog for books for the upcoming week. When the library notifies me that they’ve arrived, it’s like receiving a free present. Charlotte’s Web opened my mind to enjoying fiction, a genre I had forever detested. Now, as a person on a very limited budget, I get the gift of free stories every week. I’m so happy that this interest has developed in the past six months.

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