Young love and  inevitable heartbreak: “Why we broke up”

“Why We Broke Up”, a Young Adult novel written by Daniele Handler whose previous works include The Series of Unfortunate Events (penned under the Pseudonym Lemony Snicket) and illustrated by Maira Kalman; tells the story of high school junior, Min Green (short for Minerva), and her first experience with love and heartbreak. Told through the style of a series of letters written to the boy she seems to be still in love with — star basketball player — Ed Slaterton. The novel begins with Min packing away all the remaining artefacts from her relationship with Ed; such as some cinema tickets and a Bottle Cap. But instead of ridding her of the memories of her time with him, these objects instead, inspire her to write a series of letters to him.

Something that stood out to me in particular, was Handler’s ability to — in spite of the fact that he is an adult male — capture the mentality and phycology of a teenage girl, who over the duration of the novel we see transform from a bright and confident person, obsessed with old movies and proud of her differences and into a girl who gradually becomes less confident and more self-compromising without even realising it. I felt that in doing this, Handler sent a great message to young girls: showing them that you don’t need to alter yourself to be liked, because Min was liked and appreciated more when she was herself than when she began to change in order to fit the image of what she felt her boyfriend, and the world he inhabited wanted her to be.

Additionally, in spite of the way Ed ends up treating Min, Handler writes his character in a very sympathetic way. He has a complicated home life, where he has to be more responsible than someone his age should be. And yet, due to the way Handler writes him — as a person seen through Min’s bias lens — he is presented to us as a regular American teenager, who like most young people, sometimes acts selfishly and craves the constant approval of others. I also felt that because Min is such a bias and unreliable narrator, she tends to look at the past with a nostalgic and romantic approach, and due to this, we as readers are deprived of the full scope of their relationship and eventual breakup. Perhaps if the story were told from Ed’s or even one of her friend’s points of view, we would see that their breakup was inevitable and the revelation of Ed’s betrayal might not have seemed so shocking and so out of the blue.

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Written by, Maureen Tuyishime

Joyous and diysfunctional: “The last of the Bowmans”

I first discovered “The last of the Bowmans”at my local library, and was initially drawn to the odd and slightly quirky family dynamic that reminded me so much of my own family. Written by J. Paul. Henderson, “The last of the Bowmans” depicts a man called Greg Bowman who, after years of estrangement is forced back into contact with his family, following the untimely death of his mild-mannered father, Lyle Bowman.

I loved the novel from the beginning: the antics of the characters catered perfectly to my sense of humour, from the first page — at Lyle’s funeral — when the priest, running out of things to say, attempts (disarstarously) to drag out his speech, to the hilariously inappropriate rendition of ‘oops I did it again’ that Greg’s niece, Katie Bowman chooses to perform (to the glee of her stage mum-esq mother and the displeasure of everyone else). Additionally, as the novel develops, we discover why it was that Greg decided to move half way across the world to escape his family, and the way it has disintegrated and fallen apart since his departure.

Overall, I felt that “The last of the Bowmans” wasn’t really a book where things happen — it wasn’t action packed or tense — but merely a comedic book about people and the way life can change drastically, if you don’t keep an eye on it. But mostly, it was a book about two brothers: Greg and Billy Bowman, and how, in spite of the fact that they were raised by the same parents in the same home, their lives took two completely different paths.

Image from: Google books

Written by, Maureen Tuyishime

A Tale of Ageless wonder: “How to stop time”

Written by Matt Haig, the same man who gave us one of my favourite semi sci-fi novels, “The Humans”, “How to stop time” is another Semi sci-fi novel (I say semi-sci-fi because the only science that affects the main characters is their biology), that tells the story of Tom Hazard, a man who due to some freak genetic condition, can live much longer than other human beings. So, although he appears to be a typical 40 something-year-old, his age is closer to 400.

Reading the novel, I was struck by the way it uses the main character, Tom; a person who can assess people through the prism of time and history, as a way of observing human beings and humanity. This is done by presenting Tom as someone trying to navigate the modern world, whilst being plagued by flashbacks of a distant past: a time of intolerance, (shown through the tragic death of his mother and his eventual decision to leave his beloved wife and daughter) but also a time of great beauty and culture (with references to Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald). Tom himself is also a talented pianist, with the piano representing a time when music was an escape from his loneliness. We see glimmers of this intolerance and beauty in Tom’s present life — where he works as a history teacher — with observations of the current political climate, but also with the realisation that an old friend of his has now resurfaced, but unlike before, he no longer has to fear that the discovery of his condition will lead to witch trials and disaster. From this, I felt that the novel was trying to argue that we humans don’t change drastically, but when we do change, it tends to be for the better.

Overall, this novel was a very fast read for me: I finished it in less than two days. I found it to be a very philosophical novel, more about the bigger picture, created by singular moments than the moments themselves. And even though it normally irritates me when authors incorporate historical figures into their novels, I felt that in this case it was done not as a way of trying to make the protagonist seem more important, but as a way of showing how unimportant we as individuals are: Tom has absolutely no influence on the historical figures he encountered through his life. And even though he’s the one still alive, they are the ones whose works have been immortalised in our cultural consciousness.

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Written by, Maureen Tuyishime