Wonder by R.J. Palacio
I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.
This is one of the sweetest books I have probably ever read, and I should have picked it up ages ago. This was just a gem; I have zero complaints. The characterization was flawless; no one person was perfect, and each made mistakes appropriate to their age and life experience. But each also had pure qualities. I absolutely adored Auggie’s family, who seemed to have healthy but imperfect relationships with each other. Auggie also had an awesome voice; he’s 10 (11?) in the book and juxtaposes innocence and maturity very well. He seemed pretty realistic.
It’s also worth mentioning the religious and racial representation in the novel; many characters were different from Auggie (who we assume is white) but their difference wasn’t their defining trait. That was refreshing to read. I would have liked to hear more from Via’s perspective, but I suspect that’s because as a high schooler, she’s closer to the type of character I’m normally interested in. If you haven’t read this, what are you waiting for?
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.
Given the facts behind this book, I hate to say I didn’t really like this, but…I didn’t really like this.
I can see, objectively, how moving of a story this is and why so many people love it. It’s well-written, and it’s a reminder of our fragility, and a reminder of the beauty of life in light of that. It’s super emotionally moving and I’m sure hits very close to home for tons of people. The reader gets to see Kalanithi deal with the reality of his own death, which we all have to do at some point. It’s extremely relatable and human.
The reason I didn’t really like it is because I just don’t think my personality and tastes were right for this book. The author has an existentialist perspective and waxes very poetic about life, which again, given the circumstances, 100% makes sense. But it’s just not my cup of tea. I ended up skimming a lot of this, to be honest, because I got tired of the romanticism.
That said, if this is something that piques your interest, I do think it was well-written and relatable so I’d recommend it if asked. I’d just add that it may not be as enjoyable to read for those who tend pretty strongly towards practicality.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?
It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.
The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.
I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. But it was fabulous. Sibling relationships are one of my all-time favorite things to see in books, and this was perfect for that. The characters were extremely well-written, each with their own distinct voice and lifestyle. The plot pacing was on point. There was tension and mystery woven in without it feeling gimmicky. And it was a really nice balance between successes and failure for the characters. The only thing that was a bit predictable was the ending of Simon’s story, but honestly it didn’t detract from his story or the book as a whole. This was so fun to read and would be an awesome choice for a book club as it raises a lot of questions about the choices we make and destiny vs. free will. I highly, highly recommend this.
All images and descriptions from Goodreads