Book Review: The People in the Trees: A Novel by Hanya Yanagihara (4.5/5)

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I’ve also been putting off this review for a while….

The People in the Trees is an anthropological thriller infused with adventure, discovery, science, the ethics of science and — most of all — deeply stirring moral questions. In 1950, anthropologist Paul Tallent calls for a young doctor to accompany him on his expedition to the isolated island Ivu’ivu. The med school sends the student at the bottom of the class, Norton Perina — brilliant, lazy, ambitious and arrogant. Little do they know, this expedition will change Perina’s life and touch the world.

While on the expedition, Tallent, Perina and Esme — the assistant Perina detests — discover immortal life amongst the island people. Perina selfishly smuggles back a turtle he suspects of containing the ingredients for immortality and soon wins the Nobel Prize for discovering Selene Syndrome.

But immortality is not all it seems… And it is as quickly lost as it’s found. The concept of immortality is very interesting. And it’s been talked of a lot in recent years; it’s builds on the theory of telomeres being the key to cancer and aging. In the meantime, Perina’s personal life collides with his professional identity. Is a great man still a great man even if he is not good?

The People in the Trees is absolutely shattering. It twists your emotions, plays on your sympathy for the main character, Perina. In the end, I just think Perina was such a broken person — with possibly sociopathic tendencies. It’s really a sad story for all involved, especially the children Perina adopted.

The message I’m taking from the book is: life is not just about the material things. Life is not about who lives the longest. Life is not always about what’s on the surface. There’s things underneath, there’s deep things. Life is about emotional fulfillment, growing into your potential. Perina was very wrong about so many things…but one thing I’ve got to point out (without ruining the story) is how he provided for his children. Sure, he rescued them from a third world society. Sure, he fed and clothed and paid for their college educations. But that’s not enough to raise a child. Perina never thought about his children’s emotional wellbeing and fulfillment. He placed things quite low on Maslow’s hierarchy. Mostly, he didn’t think about what he could do for his children. He only thought about what they could do for him. What emotional hole they could fill in his empty and unfulfilled life.

As an added bonus, Yanagihara’s writing style flows beautifully. No other author could have described the landscapes of Ivu’Ivu quite as well. Yanagihara is a master of the writing style. Every word, every phrase, every sentence…just feels so beautiful, so delicate.

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Visit my blog for more reviews of up and coming books: https://rememberingwonderland.wordpress.com

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Book Review: Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall (4.5/5)

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In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old Starla is being raised in Mississippi by her paternal grandmother. Starla tries extra hard to be good and looks forward to attending the fair. When her strict grandmother grounds her, Starla decides she’s had enough. In the spur of the moment, she runs away with a dream in her heart. She’ll find her Momma – a “famous singer in Nashville” whom she hasn’t seen since she was three. And her Daddy, who works far away, will come to live with them. They’ll be a family. Along the way, Starla gets into more trouble than she bargained for. But she also finds an unlikely companion in Eula, a kind-hearted black woman with deep emotional scars and a kidnapped white baby.

Whistling Past the Graveyard warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I have little knowledge of the 1960s aside from what I’ve learned in history class. I’ve never been to the South. I’m not feisty, red-haired or outspoken like Starla. I’ve never run away from home. It’s been eight years since I’ve been nine years old. But the best stories manage to embrace the souls of anyone, bring readers into totally different when’s and where’s.

Hailed as a coming-of-age story reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird, Whistling Past the Graveyard stirs emotions. The Southern-accented voice of nine-year-old Starla is endearingly real and infused with personality. It does not hinder the writing style of the author but rather makes it flow. Through Starla’s innocent eyes, we see her journey as something both dangerous and life changing. We understand more than Starla does and that makes us want to protect her all the more. Crandall tells the story realistically. She spares none of the violence, brutality and heartbreaking reality — which may be why it’s classified under Adult Literature/Fiction rather than Children’s.

The characters of Whistling Past the Graveyard are well developed and memorable. Eula, in particular, contains layers and layers of development and emotion. She is just as important to Starla as Starla is to her. Eula teaches Starla things about herself, provides Starla with the love and emotional guidance that her grandmother and mother have neglected to give her. Through her interactions with Eula, Starla sees beyond skin color. Starla’s compassion and strength burns inside of her; she helps heal Eula’s broken heart and soul. In turn, Eula loves her in the way that Starla wishes her own Momma would.

Terrible things threaten Starla’s strength and love for the world. Terrible things like violence, racial tensions, and crushed dreams. But Whistling Past the Graveyard is about hope, compassion and the special gifts one finds in one’s self. Because of the language and graphic violence, I recommend Whistling Past the Graveyard to the YA audience 12+ and adults. 4.5/5

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Update: Books on My Review List

All from Netgalley except for the last one (litpick):

  1. Whistling Past the Graveyard (adult fiction set in 1963, from a 9-year-old girl’s POV)
  2. Abandon Book 3: Awaken (YA fiction/paranormal romance by Meg Cabot, 3rd book in a Persephone-retelling trilogy. I did swear I would never ever read a paranormal romance again after I was too fed up with them — I’ve never liked one. But I reviewed the 1st book about three years ago, so we’ll see)
  3. Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself (self-help book that builds on principles of science)
  4. Aimless Love (a collection of poems by Billy Collins)
  5. Carniepunk (an anthology of steampunk carnival stories filled with darkness)
  6. Born to Blog (well, seeing as I’m just starting to blog, this should help…)
  7. The Boy Who Could See Demons (adult fiction, psychological thriller about a little boy who, well, can see demons)
  8. For the Good of Mankind (YA/teens, about the misuse of science and human experimentation)
  9. The Scroll of Years (adult fantasy/science fiction)