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Home Fire: Book Review

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie published in 2017.

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“Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed. Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy.”

Homefire

I’m not going to lie—the reason I picked up this book in the first place is because the cover looks really cool. So I guess I literally judged a book by its cover. 

I was so torn and almost borderline confused while I was reading this. There were some parts that were so eloquently written, yet I had to force myself to get through some other parts. In Home Fire, the perspective is split into five parts; Isma, Aneeka and Parviaz Pasha, as well as Karamat and Eamonn Lone. The first three characters are siblings and the last two are father and son, the father in this relationship being new home secretary of Great Britain. His son, Eamonn, ends up falling in love with Aneeka, the twin sister to Parviaz and daughter of Adil, two British-Pakistani men turned radical terrorists. Here Eamonn is torn between his budding infatuation with Aneeka and his valued trust with his father. After Parviaz is killed while trying to come back to Britain, the tensions grow between the Pasha and Lone families, especially considering Eamonn has decided to side with Aneeka and her fight to bring her brothers body back home. There’s more to the plot of this book, but I couldn’t possibly explain it all without getting a migraine.

The main thing that bothered me about this book was the characters. I found the majority of the characters very unlikeable; in fact, the only characters that were actually half decent were Isma and Parviaz. Yet these characters were either not heavily featured or killed off, respectively. Aneeka was whiny and annoying, leading all her actions by her heart, not her head. This normally would be endearing, but her manipulative personality left much to be desired. Eamonn is a weak-willed young man ran by his genitals, so when the beautiful Aneeka shows the slightest of interest in him, all his morals are out the window. He possesses an almost obsessive desire over the nineteen-year-old girl, and even when he finds out that she only used him to get to his father in hopes of helping her estranged brother, he chooses to stay with her. Finally, his father Karamat Lone is quite the opposite of his son, yet this still doesn’t allow me to like him. His character is cold-hearted and stoic towards his family and his old faith. It is mentioned that he must maintain these qualities in order to survive in the political world, he does not really show any redeeming qualities in his private life. The toxic relationship of Aneeka and Eamonn overshadows how much I dislike Karamat though, so he gets a break here.

I don’t mean to focus on the negative. There were parts of this book that I found very interesting and enjoyed quite a bit. I loved following Parvaiz during his part, as the reader witnessed him being recruited for this terrorist group, adjusting to his new life in Raqqa, and slowly realizing that he regretted his decision while trying to escape back to Britain. His emotions of desperately wanting to connect to the father he never knew, which lead to disgust in what he had signed up for was brilliantly described. This portrayed the tragic endeavours of many young boys that are brainwashed into joining terrorist groups, and it was refreshing to represent the supposed “enemy” as the victim of a vicious system. I also found Aneeka’s part interesting, not for its content but how it was formatted. Instead of normally narrated chapters, the reader experienced her point of view in the form of hashtags, online articles and tweets about her current situation. This was a fascinating choice of style for her part, and it created some much-needed variety halfway through the novel.

This review is going to be slightly shorter than my others, mainly because I can’t think of much to say about this book. I really didn’t hate it, but I also did not love it. It wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, but it is definitely not the best. Quite average, nothing I would either recommend or discourage anyone from reading. Although overall, it was kind of disappointing, because based on the summary when I first picked it up, I thought it has a lot of potentials to be a really thought-provoking and entertaining story. I just don’t believe the author executed it as well as it could have been.

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The Hate U Give: Book Review

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas published in 2017.

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“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.  Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.”

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I’ve been wanting to read this book for months, and I finally got my hands on it. It certainly did not disappoint. 

This book incorporates every aspect I love about a story; strong characters, a plot that keeps on delivering, and a theme that forces the reader to view themselves, and their society, in a different light. It follows sixteen-year-old Starr Carter as she lives in Garden Heights, a run-down gang-ridden community while attending school in the wealthy, predominantly white suburbs of Williamson. On the way home from a house party, Starr’s childhood friend Khalid is fatally shot by a police officer who pulled them over due to a broken tail light, and she is an intimate witness to his death. Similarly to the many police killings of innocent black men in real life, there was outrage in both his community and on social media. Throughout the entire novel, we see Starr suffering from PTSD from the incident and cope with the growing pressure to achieve justice for Khalid. This novel is constantly escalating in emotions and action taken by Starr, which kept me turning the page even though I had midterms to study for. On a side note, please pray for my GPA.

The characters in The Hate U Give are remarkable. To start, they all have such strong and stable personalities, such as Starr’s father. I would happily read a whole book that followed her father, Maverick Carter, the former gang-member turned family man that has a hot temper and unconditional love for his children. This character has a competitive dynamic with Starr’s Uncle Carlos, who took care of Starr in her early life when Maverick was in prison. I would love to discuss all of the unforgettable characters in this novel and how they contributed to the depth of the story, but we would be here all day. Every single one of them is so genuine and I found myself heavily invested in not only Starr’s life but her community as a whole.

Another character that I found myself loving is Hailey Starr’s upper-class friend from school that reveals herself to be racist after Khalid’s shooting. Okay, I understand why that sounds bad; hear me out though. As much as I hate her from a moral standpoint, I love her from a literary point of view. She represents so many people in our society; the closeted racists that lurk among us. The people who claim they aren’t racist because they have black friends, but argues that the young black kid who was shot by the police deserved it since he was a “thug”. Also, Angie Thomas takes it one step further and made her one of Starr’s best friends. It is heartbreaking to learn that someone you have grown to trust and love has a quality that cannot be overlooked like a bad habit of chewing with your mouth open. It’s a punch in the gut to both Starr and the reader, making the character of Hailey even more impactful. Simply stated, the characters that surround Starr are incredibly compelling and contribute to the powerful themes.

I heard someone say that every white person should read this book, and I couldn’t agree more. Some people might believe that since it’s from the perspective of a young black girl who mainly deals with issues pertaining to the African American community, that they would not be able to relate. This book is not about being able to relate though, it’s about pushing the limits of your moral compass and expanding your frame of mind. Also, if anything, a white person’s inability to relate should encourage them to pick up this book since it can be a valuable tool for learning some empathy and compassion. Beyond the police brutality, I learned a lot about the inner politics of street gangs, specifically the fact that many younger members are trapped in the cycle of violence because they cannot find opportunities elsewhere due to a lack of opportunity. This makes the media labelling Khalid as a thug so much more hurtful, as the only reason he was apart of a gang was to pay off his mother’s debts.

This book had me laughing, crying and shaking my head at society all at the same time. I noticed that my emotions were mirroring Starr’s, a quality I admire in a story. The scariest aspect of this is how real it is. Everything mentioned in this book has been happening for decades, is happening as we speak, and will continue to happen unless those in power decide to open their minds and be held responsible for their actions. It’s a heavy topic that deserves proper attention, both in a literary form and real-life context. 

I really can’t think of anything bad to say about this novel. I absolutely loved every part of it. I highly recommend it to anyone who can get their hands on a copy. If you can’t find something to relate to in this, you’ll definitely find something that you can learn from it.

If you wish to learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement or donate to the cause, click here.

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The List: Book Review

The List by Siobhan Vivian published in 2012.

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“It happens every year. A list is posted, and one girl from each grade is chosen as the prettiest, and another is chosen as the ugliest. Nobody knows who makes the list. It almost doesn’t matter. The damage is done the minute it goes up.”

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This book has made me so thankful that I’m finally out of high school. 

The endless ego-centrism over minor events such as the homecoming dance and the ever pressing need to fit it or prove who you are to the world is exhaustingalthough I say this as if these traits aren’t still with many people when they leave high school.

In The List eight teenage girls, two from each grade level, are chosen as either the prettiest or ugliest of their year. The maker of the list is anonymous and supposedly different each year, yet they hold an incomprehensible amount of power over the entire student body. These eight girls are all affected differently based on their own individual personality and the ranking they receive. Relationships crumble, gender identities are explored, metaphorical masks are put on and even an eating disorder is brought on, which I’ll be talking about more later.

When I found out there were eight main characters, who swap perspectives on a chapter basis in a somewhat random order, I was very nervous. Not only are there the main eight girls, but there are side characters such as boyfriends, classmates, parents and siblings. I was afraid of forgetting characters names, getting them mixed up or blurring the individual storylines. Yet surprisingly, this didn’t happen. The characterization was quite strong, each girl was very different so it wasn’t easy to get them confused. Although, the plot was spread a bit thin. Since this book is only 336 pages there isn’t much room to delve into the lives of eight people. In fact, with some simple math, anyone can find out that this only leaves each character with 42 pages each, and some were focused on more such as the two senior girls. 42 pages are definitely not enough to tell the story that each character deserves, and this can be seen through many plot holes.

I have to admit that I really liked the very last line, it punched me in the gut and gives the reader something to think about even after they close the book. This is something a good ending should do. The sinking realization that the thing she fought so hard to attain, the title of homecoming queen, is actually meaningless.

“Obviously the rhinestones wouldn’t be diamonds, but Margo had always assumed the tiara would be metal.

It isn’t.

It is plastic.”

Even though the last line tickles me, the overall ending of the story was somewhat disappointing. This is a book that definitely could have benefited from an epilogue to tie up loose ends. There are so many questions I had when I closed the book that left such an unsatisfying taste in my mouth. Did the list get passed onto the next year? If so, who was gifted the responsibility of writing it? Does the principal ever find out who wrote it? Did Bridget recover from her eating disorder? Does Sarah finally admit her feelings to Milo? All great questions, all unanswered by the end of the novel. Speaking of some factors that were never addressed, I was hoping that someone would question why there is no official list of best and worst looking male students. I understand that this was supposed to be a commentary on the pressure of teenage girls to depend on their physical appearance, but I was hoping someone within the novel would notice the double-standard that existed between the male and female students.

I mentioned before that some heavy topics were discussed, but the one I want to focus on is Bridget’s eating disorder. The most impacting character, in my opinion, was Bridget and how she struggled with eating disorders. Interestingly enough, the words eating disorder, bulimia or anorexia are never mentioned, but it is made abundantly clear that Bridget has fell victim to this mental illness. Despite being declared as one of the prettiest girls in school, she is far from happy. In fact, this only puts more pressure on her to fit this image of perfection. Denial is common for Bridget, as she is constantly trying to convince herself that her condition is not that bad. It ranges from experimenting with a disgusting juice cleanse to skipping meals to even attempting to vomit in the school’s washroom. It was truly uncomfortable to read but in the best way, since it forces the reader to open their eyes and embrace how ugly eating disorders can truly be, and how societal pressures can make these disorders so much more dangerous.

Overall, this is an interesting concept to explore within a novel and was written fairly well. I would recommend it to individuals that are either in high school or have just recently exited high school though since it does have themes most engaging for young people.

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Her: Book Review

Her by Harriet Lane published in 2015.

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“Two different women; two different worlds. On the face of it, Emma and Nina have very little in common. Isolated and exhausted by early motherhood, Emma finds her confidence is fading fast. Nina is sophisticated and assured, a successful artist who seems to have it all under control. And yet, when the two women meet, they are irresistibly drawn to each other. As the friendship develops, as Emma gratefully invites Nina into her life, it emerges that someone is playing games – and the stakes could not be higher.”

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I began reading this book with little to no expectations, as I knew little to nothing about the novel or the author. Unfortunately, I finished it with the same level of enthusiasm that I started with.

Following the lives of two seemingly different women, Nina and Emma, the unlikely and blatantly underwhelming connection between the two are very slowly revealed. Nina is a worldly painter that holds a slightly uncomfortable obsession with Emma. Meanwhile, Emma is an incredibly oblivious mother, who seems to have a strange love-hate relationship with her young children, holding a grudge against them for stealing away her glamorous television career. She is now trapped in motherhood, only able to longingly observe her past life through her husband. Nina goes to great lengths to insert herself into Emma’s life; from stealing her wallet and pretending to find it so she can be the one to return the lost item.  She even lured Emma’s young son away from a playground so she could be the “hero” that finds him. I found both characters unrelatable in different ways, so ultimately I didn’t care about what happened to them. I understand that the author was going for an open ending, one that the reader can interpret the way they please. Yet it’s difficult to put much thought into an ending of a story you don’t really care.

There were other characters too, yet the reason I failed to mention them is because they were all quite flat. Simply implanted in the story to serve a singular purpose. I did appreciate Emma’s odd relationship with her children, bouncing back and forth from unconditional love and comfort to burning resentment towards their loud cries and sticky hands. I feel that most motherly tropes in literature are portrayed in a quintessential light; constantly sacrificing and providing maternal warm and love, always knowing the answers to supposedly impossible questions. Yet Emma’s character is a bit more realistic, giving into the frustration and even sometimes loathing towards her family. When it comes to Nina, she is on the verge of sociopathic tendencies as she tries to get close to Emma (refer above to the child abduction act she pulled). She also possessed peculiar emotions towards Emma, constantly admiring her beauty yet finding joy in her stress and failure. I had absolutely no empathy for either of these women, which is a pity.

Let’s move on to the plot line of this story. I won’t be spoiling anything because to be honest, there’s not much to spoil. Throughout the entire novel, there is an intense build up that has the reader asking themselves: “How does Nina know Emma, but Emma is unaware Nina?” I found myself wondering, perhaps they were lovers in their youth? Did Nina once be a crazed fan of Emma during her TV career? No, nothing quite as exciting. Not only is the reveal very lacklustre, but the author waits until the final ten pages or so to disclose this information. There is also no moment of recognition from Emma. Throughout the story, she experiences small recollections of Nina from her past, yet cannot exactly connect the dots. So I was waiting for the final piece of the puzzle to click for her—the “my God, that’s where I know you from” moment, and then further confrontation as to why Nina did not reveal her identity right away. This never happens.

Now the imagery. Ah, all the imagery. I’m pretty sure at least fifty percent or more of the word count in this book were adjectives alone. Describing the sight, smell, sound, taste and tangible feeling of everything these characters experience; both past and present. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate some good imagery here and there, but I found myself drowning in all the pointless descriptions that littered the page. It wasn’t uncommon that I had to go back and re-read the same paragraph three or four times, which grows very tiring quite quickly. Contributing to the droning on of the excessive imagery, the flow was troubling for me. There was hardly no variety in sentence lengths; the majority of them being very long run on sentences, separated by commas and semicolons.

I closed this book with the worst feeling a reader can feel; apathy. Indifference towards the plot, characters and overall themes of the novel. If you plan on reading Her by Harriet Lane in the future, I’m not here to stop you, but just simply warn you. Be prepared for endless and tiresome imagery, characters with little redeeming qualities, and an ending that leaves little to be desired.

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I Am Malala: Book Review

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb published in 2013.

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“I am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons. I am Malala will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.”

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First of all, I’d like to say, if you have never heard of Malala Yousafzai, please let me know the address of the rock that you live under.

I was so excited to hear Malala’s words, and with the very first sentence, she did not disappoint. The novel opens up with a spine-chilling statement, “I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday.” This not only sets the tone for the prologue but the entire book. The way that she decided to tell her story was incredibly personal, which I enjoyed. There were moments that I felt as if she was sitting next to me, just conversing about her life. She writes like someone who would be your witty classmate that sits in the second row of your philosophy class (rather specific but it just seems right). Despite having sort of a grim ending (spoiler alert), I found myself smiling and even laughing out loud at some moments, such as when she described her and her friends obsessing over Twilight novels and Bollywood films. Yet this novel does a great job of warming your heart and then immediately drag you back down to the grim reality that is life, more specifically, life among the Taliban. I don’t cry easily when it comes to books, but when Malala was separated after she was shot, I did tear up a bit.

As a young, privileged Caucasian girl living in Canada, I have no reason to relate to Malala or her story, but she tells her story in such an eloquent, detailed way that I couldn’t help but imagine myself in her situation.

While most people assume most of her story would revolve around her being shot and recovery, the majority of the novel focuses on her life leading up to the shooting, including her struggling with natural disasters in Pakistan and the takeover of the Taliban in her Valley. I appreciated this since it showed she is more than just the girl who got shot by the Taliban, yet I can understand why some would consider this “dull.” But also as a reader who is close to her in age, it made the story even more relatable than I mentioned above.

Another feature I found interesting about this book is the surprisingly large role of her father. I believe her father could have a novel of his own because from what I’ve heard about him from Malala, I want more. Every word that came out of his mouth was methodically thought out and carefully dictated with deep emotional meaning. One of my favourite things he uttered was a response to his daughter asking why the Taliban didn’t want girls to go to school—“They are afraid of the pen, Malala.” Some people may not appreciate how often her father is mentioned since they picked up this book to read about Malala, yet I recognize it as a crucial part of her story. Much like fictional characters, there was a lot of development for Malala as a young woman condensed within 313 pages. From questioning her father why some people didn’t want girls going to school to performing influential interviews and speeches about girls education. So one of the reasons she became a person of protest and pride is due to her father.

One of my favourite ongoing aspect of her story was the presence of Pashtun culture which she is rightly proud of. The overwhelming amount of hospitality that they possess is both admirable and frightening. I could never imagine opening my home to anyone at any time for an unknown amount of time, but this seemed common and encouraged in her community. I loved learning about the history of her Swat Valley and all of Pakistan in general, along with the past and current state of their government. I understand reading articles and scholarly journals about modern Pakistan policies or the cruelty of the Taliban can be sometimes dry, so if you want to inform yourself in an interesting way, go pick up Malala’s memoir.

I do wish that she would have delved deeper into her future beyond this book. It ended in a sort of stagnant present in which the reader didn’t know what was next for Malala. It was said that she wanted to go back to Pakistan, but what she was planning on doing while in Britain remains a mystery. Overall, it was a pleasure to immerse myself in her life and I would recommend this as a good read for any young person interesting in getting angry over injustice and enlightened through hope and cultural pride.

If you wish to learn more about Malala or donate to her education fund, click here.

 

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Welcome to The Opaque!

Hello!

My name is Rose and I am an English major at the University of Windsor. Here I plan to post book reviews for modern favourites and upcoming page-turners! I will also be sharing some poetry every month to spread some literary joy. Perhaps after I gain the confidence, I will probably share some of my own writing! I hope that you will follow me on this journey of reading and discovery.