That Time I Loved You

by Carrianne Leung
First sentence: “1979: This was the year the parents in my neighbourhood began killing themselves.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some sex (on-screen but not graphic) and swearing, including a few f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Set in a suburb of Toronto, specifically on one street in a particular neighborhood, this collection of connected short stories  follows the inner workings of a dozen people of all ages.  The characters are mostly women, except for one black teenage boy, and many of them are immigrants. Leung explores immigrant expectations and prejudices toward them. She explores female dynamics both with other females and with males. She touches on sexual assault and racism and emotional abuse. It’s a lot. And yet, it works.

I usually have problems with short stories, but I think because these are connected — the characters in the stories appear in their own as well as in the background of other stories — it felt more like a novel. We got to know the characters, we get to know the neighborhood, and because each story focuses on a different person, we get to know them intimately and it means more when they show up in a different story.

I really enjoyed this one!


The Memory of Light

by Francisco X. Stork
First sentence: “Nana, I tried to write you in Spanish by my Espanol no es muy bueno en este momento.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: January 26, 2016
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s frank talk of depression and suicide, a few mild swear words, one (maybe two?) f-bombs, and some indirect drug use. Nothing too bad, though, so it’ll probably be in the YA (grades 6-8) section at the bookstore.

Vicky should have the perfect life. Her father is a high-powered Latino businessman, so she’s never wanted for anything. She goes to a high-powered private school, she has a popular boy who likes her. But. She doesn’t feel like anything’s worth living for. Her Nana is being sent back to Mexico, in spite of having been a part of the family since before Vicky was born. Vicky’s constantly being compared to her “perfect” older sister; she’s never quite good enough, smart enough, driven enough. So, one night, she decides to take her own life.

Except, it doesn’t work. She finds herself in the mental ward of a hospital, walking to a therapist and a group of other mentally ill teenagers — bi-polar, anger management, schizophrenic — wondering if there is a way to have depression rather than to be depressed.

I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. I am SO glad that there is a book out there about depression and suicide that isn’t depressing as well. Yes, Vicky is sad, a sadness that is impossibly empty, but the book itself finds hope and healing in it. Slowly, Vicky finds reasons to live, she finds her voice, she finds friends, she finds a community to connect with, and she figures out ways to deal with this depression she has. On top of that, in Stork’s hands this story — which is personal for him, since he suffers from depression as well — has a heart and soul that reached out and grabbed me. He’s so good a portraying pain, but he’s also incredible at portraying healing and friendship, all of which I needed at this point in my life.


I Was Here

by Gayle Forman
First sentence: “The day after Meg died, I received this letter:”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy pilfered from the Penguin rep pile.
Content: There is drinking, illusions to pot smoking, language, and some tasteful sex. It’s also a post-high school graduation book. For these reasons, it’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Cody and Meg have been best friends for as long as Cody can remember. Since her mother was gone pretty much all the time, Cody practically grew up at Meg’s house. Meg’s family became her family, Meg’s dreams her dreams. Until they graduated, and Meg got a full-ride scholarship away from their small Eastern Washington town and to a fancy liberal arts school in Tacoma. Suddenly, Cody was the one left behind.

A year later, though, Meg committed suicide. Leaving Cody behind again.

An aside here, in case this sounds crass: this book isn’t about Meg’s suicide. Not really. It’s about Cody, and her reactions to Meg’s suicide. Dealing with grief, dealing with loss, dealing with the reasons why. Meg isn’t a character in this book, even though you kind of get to know her. She’s a reason. A cause.

Cody heads to Tacoma to clean out Meg’s apartment and discovers an encrypted file. Suddenly what seemed like a simple suicide looks more suspicious. And with the help of one of Meg’s roommates (stereotypical Korean computer whiz) and an ex-boyfriend (tortured rock soul whom Cody ends up “saving”) Cody tries to make sense of the senseless.

In the end, it was less of a mystery than I hoped for and more of a romance. And while the romance was okay, I kind of thought it took away from the whole grief thing. Cody is hurt, and maybe one needs a Man to heal, but it kind of felt out of place here. Forman is a good writer, though, and she got across Cody’s raw grief and her questions that didn’t have answers and her need for closure.

A good read, if not an exceptional one.

All the Bright Places

by Jennifer Niven
First sentence: “Is today a good day to die?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s teenage smoking and drinking and some off-screen sex. Not to mention the several f-bombs, and the weighty subject matter. All this puts it squarely in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Finch is just coming out of a two month’s “sleep”, as he calls it. Violet is dealing with survivor’s remorse, being the only survivor in a car accident that killed her sister. Both find themselves at the top of the school’s bell tower one wintery day, contemplating the idea of jumping off, ending it all.

It’s a weird way to start a relationship, saving each other from suicide, but Finch can’t get Violet off his mind. And slowly, through a class project and sheer determination, he wins her over.

There’s really not much else to the plot. I’m sure this one will get huge comparisons to Fault in Our Stars (teens fall in love in spite of Obstacles) or Eleanor & Park (teens fall in love in spite of Differences in background and in spite of Bad Circumstances), but I didn’t feel like it was as good as either of those.  I wanted to like Finch and Violet, but didn’t connect with either one. I felt like Niven was throwing WAY too much at me: suicidal thoughts, car accident deaths, neglectful parenting, abuse, depression, bi-polar, actual suicide, and bullying, with a smattering of eating disorders in there as well. It’s like all the crappy things that could happen to anyone in life were happening to Finch and Violet. And that was just too. too. much.

What I did like, however, were Finch and Violet’s trips exploring the state of Indiana. I enjoyed seeing the state through their eyes, exploring the nooks and crannies and off-beat places that people don’t usually go.

But that wasn’t enough for me to truly enjoy this book.