Hello, readers! I wanted to have a review of East of Eden by John Steinbeck up before this, but I didn’t end up finishing it over the weekend. Still making my way through to the end. It’s fantastic, but very long, so bear with me! In the meantime, here’s another Top 5 Wednesday! Again, this was created by Lainey (or gingerreadslaniey on YT), and you can find the Goodreads link to the group here. This week’s topic: Books That Made You Think. I thought it was going to be difficult to narrow down my choices, but I picked these 5 gems with surprising ease. Warning: serious topics ahead!
1. Maus vol. l & ll by Art Spiegelman
The Maus volumes are graphic memoirs about Art, a cartoonist who wants to recount his father’s Holocaust survival story. The volumes switch between the present day as Art lives with the aftermath of his father’s experiences and the past which depicts the everyday realities of the Holocaust. I read both volumes two years ago in my freshman seminar class, and I couldn’t put them down. It didn’t even feel like I was reading for a class. I especially loved how Spiegelman drew his characters as animals – The Jewish were mice, the Germans were cats, the Polish were pigs, and the Americans were dogs. I thought this metaphor really added to the story. I also appreciated seeing the present-day relationship between Art and his father, which was somewhat strained because of Art’s inability to understand or connect with what his father went through. This really emphasized the disconnect between first and second generation Holocaust survivors, which is something I hadn’t previously ever thought about. These volumes are another example of great World War ll-era literature.
2. Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Again, this is a book I read in school (last semester) that I couldn’t stop reading. It messed with my mind, but in a good way. The protagonist grew up without parental guidance and, as a result, isolated himself as an adult while also gaining an incredible superiority complex. He’s a perfect example of a good ol’ unreliable narrator who is so obviously mentally unstable. I think of any other book I read in that class, this one prompted the most intense discussions. There was so much to talk about. Is the protagonist capable of love having never received it himself? Are his actions exaggerated by the author to show the extremes of everyday human nature (i.e. can we relate to the protagonist on some level, even if we aren’t so extreme?)? Was he living a downright unhealthy lifestyle? The list goes on. I was thinking about this book for days afterward, and I would love to re-read it again in the future. Not to mention, I loved the writing.
3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
This novel has been out for about 15 years, and I only just read it this year. And while the characters are only freshman in high school (mostly), I was moved by this book in ways I didn’t expect. This deserves every bit of praise that it receives. The protagonist, Melinda, calls the cops to end a big house party the summer before her freshman year, and everyone hates her for getting them all into trouble. *Spoiler alert* We later find out that Melinda called the police because she was raped. But for 90% of the novel, she doesn’t tell anybody. She becomes depressed and basically friendless as she tries to survive freshman year. I can’t say I related to Melinda on that level, but the part that made me so angry was the way people treated her – people who used to be her friends or even complete strangers. I loathed a majority of the characters because of how terrible they were. But it was realistic, and that was the saddest part. The emotional trauma that Melinda went through on a daily basis made me almost want to stop reading, especially since it was told from the first person POV. If there’s something I absolutely cannot tolerate, it’s bullying of any kind for any reason. This book made me think about a lot of things for a long time after completion. It made me think about speaking up and reaching out, about getting help, about the repercussions of sexual assault, about the natural human desire to be appreciated and loved, and about how absolutely cruel people can be. But it was also very hopeful, and the ending made me feel proud of Melinda. I’m definitely glad I read this, even if it was hard for me at certain points. This is an important YA book that hopefully makes its readers more aware of the way they treat others as well as about the importance of speaking up if they’ve gone through the same thing Melinda has.
4. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock follows a boy, Leonard Peacock, and his plan to kill his former best friend and then himself on his birthday. This book is dark and intense and, similarly to Speak, important. It’s important because Leonard is an example of why school shootings happen (and what it takes to stop them). He’s an example of what happens when society stigmatizes and devalues the effects that extreme forms of mental illness (or even non-extreme) can have on a person, especially when others simply cast those with mental illness off as “crazy” or “deranged.” He’s an example of how a lack of positive parenting can be detrimental to children. I won’t say whether or not Leonard goes through with the plan, but the build-up and suspense is at a high level. This book was as unpredictable as Leonard himself. It was funny, it was sad, it was real. And it made me think about society’s tendency to scare away from the problems of mental illness as well as its tendency to ignore the problem even when the signs are so blatantly obvious. This novel poses as a wake-up call for those who prefer to ignore mental illness. But it is also reassurance to those suffering that there are other options, that there’s always at least one person out there who cares about you, and that you can heal. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a dark, but rewarding read that has continued to stick with me.
5. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Sometimes it’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I used to hate war books back in middle school/early high school. Now, they are some of my favorites. There is just such honesty and historical context that make it impossible for me to not appreciate. The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories, all connected to each other, that take place during the Vietnam era. Vietnam is my favorite war to study/read about, and I think it’s a shame that there aren’t more books written about it. None of the stories are entirely true re-tellings of actual events, but the idea is that they depict the realities of being placed in the middle of that war. O’Brien’s writing is beautiful, yet outright. He hold nothing back, and I think that only added to the story. I finished the book in one or two quick sittings, but it dominated my mind for weeks after. Even now, it has become one of my all time favorites. It really gets to the heart of the Vietnam war and depicted the vulnerability, fear, and hatred of the soldiers extremely well. It transports you to an entirely foreign, dangerous world. It’s a book that I think everyone should read at some point.
These 5 books all made me think about themes or topics that I hadn’t before, and they have also stuck with me in ways other books haven’t.
That’s all for now! I’d love to hear what books have made you think or have stuck with you!
Read on! – Veronica