After a very tiring online semester of school, I decided to kick back and use my holiday break to catch up on some much needed reading time. Here are the books that I read over the break, all of which I would highly recommend:
- Wonder by R. J. Palacio
One of my friends was studying this book for her Children’s Lit course and accidentally purchased the French translation, and knowing that I’m a French speaker, as well as not wanting the book to go to waste, she very kindly mailed it to me so that I could read it. It’s a YA novel about 10-year-old August Pullman, who was born with a facial difference, and his experiences in his first year of going to school after years of home-schooling. August experiences bullying and prejudice, but he also makes friends, matures into a young adult, refines his ability to use his sense of humor to cope with and resist the hatred thrown his way, and changes how his community views him and others with a disability. The book is written mainly from Auggie’s point of view, but it also oscillates to the points of view of other characters, like his best friend Jack and his sister Olivia, to show how his facial differences affect them socially as well. There are obvious problems with this book, which my friend and I discussed, like the fact that it was written by someone without a facial difference themself, and the ending of the book, which, without giving too much away, can be described as “inspiration porn,” a term used in Disability Studies in which the character with a disability is described as inspirational solely on the basis of their disability. Inspiration porn doesn’t actually celebrate people with disabilities like you might think; in fact, it objectifies and pities these individuals. Nevertheless, I can’t deny that it’s a very good book, both from a literary point of view and a disability studies point of view, and that kids and adults alike can learn a lot from it. It’s also just plain entertaining, and August is an incredibly endearing and funny character that I would love to spend more time with over a juice box.
- From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle
I’ve been seeing this book absolutely everywhere, from bookshops to pharmacies, so I was very curious to see what all the hype was about. I knew I had to read it after reading the inner blurb and finding out it was a memoir by a Métis-Cree man and his experiences in relation to his absent father, the foster care system, school bullying, addiction, homelessness, and petty crime. Long story short, Thistle overcomes his addiction, finds love, rediscovers his Indigenous heritage, and becomes a scholar of Métis studies, but the path towards this triumph is a harrowing one, full of relapses and setbacks, twists and turns. The prose was also stirring and I found myself tearing up more than once. Before reading this book, I knew of course that addiction and crime are the result of factors like poverty, lack of love in childhood, and structural racism against BIPOC. However, it’s one thing to know this conceptually, and another to actually read someone’s visceral, first-hand account of these experiences. This book helped me develop a newfound sense of empathy for those struggling with homelessness and addiction and gave me a fuller understanding of how difficult it really is to claw your way out of one. It also made it clearer to me how disconnect from one’s culture and heritage, the historical attempt at eradicating Indigenous culture–through Canadian residential schools for example–is directly tied to the poor social and health outcomes of Indigenous peoples today. If you ever hear another racist claiming that Indigenous peoples themselves are to blame for the high rates of poverty, homelessness, and substance abuse in their communities, feel free to slap this book in their face as evidence that this could not be further from the truth.
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
I’ve had Sense and Sensibility, along with Jane Austen’s other novels, sitting on my bookshelf for a while now. I took a Pride and Prejudice course last year and fell in love with Austen, so I bought the rest of her novels on a whim but never got around to reading them until now. It’s not Pride and Prejudice, first of all, but it’s still pretty damn good. In short, it’s about two sisters, the sensible and pragmatic Elinor, and the romantic and impulsive Marianne, and how they navigate love and relationships after their father dies and their financial circumstances are severely wounded. There’s forbidden love, there are duels, there are evil mothers-in-law, and of course, there’s a whole array of Austenian buffoons to laugh at. I loved this book because I don’t know which quality I identified with more: sense or sensibility. Elinor and Marianne to me felt not like characters but like the two warring factions inside my own brain. I loved delving into the thoughts and feelings of the characters and understanding their psychology, and I loved the dialogue, filled with double meanings and witticisms. I watched the Ang Lee movie adaptation right after and will proceed to watch all the other adaptations and obsess over Austen some more.
I highly recommend checking out one or even all three of these books. Happy reading!