Saturday, June 27, 2020

Girl in Pieces, by Kathleen Glasgow Girl in Pieces (9781101934715): Glasgow, Kathleen: Books

[TRIGGER WARNING: Drugs, alcohol, self-harm, suicide, sexual violence]

Charlotte "Charlie" Davis lived through a nightmare of a childhood, to put it lightly. Her father drowned himself when she was young. Her mother hit her frequently. Charlie had run away from home and ended up living in a "sex house." She ran away from there too, and lived on the streets. Charlie drank, struggled with addiction, cut herself. 

Sometime the book begins, she was attacked by a man under an overpass, and found practically bleeding to death by two of her friends, who took her to a nearby hospital. After she recovered, she was sent to Creeley, a residential clinic for women who have led a traumatic life and/or have depression which has led them to self-harm, attempt suicide, or both. When we meet Charlie, she is already at Creeley.

During her stay, Charlie refuses to speak, instead writing out what she wants to say. She refuses to talk about her past, preferring to try and forget about it instead. Eventually, Charlie is discharged from the clinic after her grandmother is unable to pay for her stay. Charlie must live with her mother until a halfway home becomes available. 

Charlie's mother knows that she is unable to care for Charlie, and she also knows that Charlie won't want to live with her. She gives Charlie money, some basics and toiletries, a bus ticket, and directions to find and friend of Charlie's in Arizona. This friend, Mike, will help her.

Mike gives her a temporary place to live, and Charlie finds a job working as a dishwasher at a diner. She starts having a relationship with a man named Riley West, her boss's brother. Riley uses drugs and is often drunk, But Charlie trusts him. Even when he sends her to buy drugs for him. Even when she has to go to his house every morning to wake him up for work. Even when he won't share a bit of his past with her after she tells him about hers.

Charlie is trying to break away from her addictions and her old habits. She learns to cope with her pain in other ways than cutting. She begins to enjoy things in life when before all she knew how to do was suffer. But she also knows that anything could happen to force her back into her old life. For example, her boyfriend Riley, whose behaviors are threatening to lure her back into that way of life.

Girl in Pieces is about a teenage girl who is haunted by memories of her past, no matter how hard she tries to forget. Author Kathleen Glasgow herself struggled with depression when she was younger, and now bears permanent reminders of her self-harming behaviors on her own skin. She writes that 1 in every 200 teenage girls reports self-harm, but the actual number is closer to 1 in 6. She says that it is very likely that you know someone who has self-harmed or is self-harming. 

This story hits very close to home for me. Like I had said in a previous post, I have and still sometimes do struggle with depression, and I have taken it out on myself in ways that I wish I had never done.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the National Child Abuse Hotline.

I recommend this for 15+. This book has excessive profanity, detailed mentions of sex, descriptions of self-harm and suicidal idealization, and many, many mentions of drug and alcohol abuse, among other things that would be overwhelming for younger readers. Mostly, it is up to the parents to decide whether or not the story line and plot isn't too much for their child. I am 14, and it was almost too much for me. 

All in all, a heart-wrenching, emotional story that reveals the struggles that many teenagers in our society face today. Despite the book being difficult to get through in parts, I actually enjoyed the book. Maybe "enjoyed" is not the right word, given the subject matter. But it is an excellent book.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson Wintergirls (8601200507249): Anderson, Laurie Halse: Books

[TRIGGER WARNING: Eating disorders, self-harm]

Cassie and Lia had sworn a pact, sealed by blood. They swore to compete over who could be thinner. Cassie was bulimic, Lia was anorexic

They were wintergirls, not dead, not alive.

They got thinner and thinner, until one day, Cassie died. Alone, in a motel room. She and Lia had fought months before, and had sworn never to speak with each other again. But the day before she died, Cassie had called Lia. 33 times. Lia didn't pick up once.

Lia is living an imitation of life. She counts her calories, but only if she eats. She eats one meal a day, maximum. Other days she eats nothing at all. She lives with her father, stepmother, and stepsister. Her stepmother, Jennifer, weighs her every day, to try to keep her at a healthy weight, at least 110 pounds. Lia doesn't like that. She's striving for 85 pounds. Anything more is unacceptable. Lia cheats the scale by placing quarters into the pockets of her bathrobe to make herself heavier. 

At night, voices haunt her. They call her ugly, fat, stupid, and worse. But one night, there's a new voice. Cassie's. She's standing in the doorway; Lia actually sees her. Then, she appears beside Lia, and begs her to go with her, to cross over: to die, so she and Cassie can be together again.

Lia doesn't tell anyone: about how she's cheating the scale, or about the fact that she is seeing (and talking to) a ghost. Not her mother, not her stepmother, not her father, not her therapist. She doesn't want to be sent back to a mental health clinic again. Lia calls it "the prison."

In addition to all of her quarters, Lia is weighed down by guilt: by the feeling that she could have done something to save her best friend's life, by the fact that Cassie had called her 33 times while she was sick, dying, begging for help, praying that Lia would pick up the phone.

She hopes that the spirit will go away after Cassie's funeral, but it does not. Lia still goes through her daily routine, of eating very little, going to school, arguing with her father and stepmother, and cutting herself in the bathroom. Except now, at random intervals, she is visited by Cassie's ghost, a searing reminder of how Cassie had begged for Lia's help, and Lia never knew. Now, Lia struggles with anorexia as well as survivor's guilt. Plus, she feels as though her parents don't care, she feels that giving in to her hunger makes her weak, and she believes that Cassie was the only one who could ever understand her -- and now she's gone. Lia is lonely, angry, and depressed. 

Anorexia and bulimia are severe, chronic eating disorders that affect millions of men, women, and children worldwide. Lia exhibits common behaviors of anorexics, such as avoiding food, playing with food, exercising constantly to burn fat even though she has none to burn, wearing slightly baggy clothes to hide weight loss, and keeping an emergency supply of laxatives and emetics (drugs that make you throw up). She is also suffering from severe depression, she cuts herself on a daily basis, and has made more than one attempt at suicide. 

Will Lia decide to "join" Cassie?

Author Laurie Halse Anderson wrote Wintergirls after she was contacted by fans telling her their own stories about their struggles with eating disorders.

The book is written almost like a series of diary entries, though it is not clear if they are actually written entries or just a series of her thoughts. Throughout the book we see certain words and sentences crossed out, revealing what Lia is truly thinking, and what she doesn't want to think, or admit. Anderson also plays with font size, style, and space to mark Lia's changing emotions: her guilt and sadness over Cassie's death, her fears. Reading this kind of book is a much more immersive experience, and very emotional.

I recommend this for 13+ because I am 14, and when I read this, I was literally crying. I was also unable to put it down until I had finished it -- it was that good -- but it is a very powerful book and probably not for younger readers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Judenrein, by Harold Benjamin

Judenrein: A Jewish Dystopian Thriller - Kindle edition by ...

Zack Gurevitz is a former Green Beret turned junkie living in Chicago, during a time of fear and unrest in America. As a young Jewish man on the streets, life is doubly dangerous for him. The government has ordered the round-up of all American Jews, so they can be moved into ghettos, supposedly for their own protection.

Power in the US government has been seized by an organization called 88wh1te. They are a white supremacist organization that aims to make America (cough) great again, by which they mean ensuring that only white, non-Jewish people can live freely in America. And so, dark history is repeating itself. In author Harold Benjamin's terrifying America, Jewish families have been robbed of everything: jobs, property, money, and basic rights. They aren't even allowed to go out from their police-guarded ghettos into open society without a Star of David pin on their clothes containing a tracking device. 

Zack doesn't really care. He has his own problems. He was excommunicated when he was young by his own father after being kicked out of his yeshiva school for getting into a fight, and subsequently sent to a military academy. Later, in the Army, he was able to join in the Special Forces as a sniper, only to be shot himself in Afghanistan. Since his discharge, he has been living on the streets trying to beat a heroin addiction. But when an old friend from the Army pays him a visit at a local methadone clinic, Zack knows something is up. It can not have been easy to find him. He has no house, and no car. Therefore, he has no address, no phone number, and no license plate. This friend, a man by the name of Moshe Rosenblatt, brings news of a brewing situation. 

There have been rumors circulating that an attack is being planned on the Jewish "Protective Zone" (read: "ghetto") in Detroit. Rosenblatt wants to recruit Zack to help stop the attack, largely because of Zack's expertise as a sniper, but also because the secret nature of his missions means that neither his identity nor his Jewish blood is a matter of record in military databases.

Rosenblatt takes Zack to the ghetto to meet the man in charge, a man named Reuven Simkin. Simkin tells Zack about the plan, which is to dispatch Zack to uncover the truth about the attack: who is in charge of it, what kind of attack it is to be, and when it might happen. Zack wants no part of this mission. Simkin's son is the one with whom he got into the fight that led to his being expelled from school, and Simkin himself who saw to it that his life was ruined afterward. But lingering memories of a once-strong connection to his faith convince him to accept. 

Zack has to use the skills he picked up from the Army to hide from, dodge, and fight anyone who threatens his mission, but he soon discovers that there is much more to the plot than anybody realizes, even the people actually wrapped up in it.

Judenrein is a dystopian novel that portrays what America will end up like if we continue to go down a path of discrimination and xenophobia. In the streets, prejudice and violence against minorities are common happenstance. Laws are made to prohibit them from enjoying a normal life. Jews especially suffer these injustices, though the antagonists in the book are also clearly hostile towards African Americans (there is much use of the n-word), Latinos, and the LGBTQ+ community.

The word judenrein is German for "free of Jews," the 88wh1te organization's hope for America. The members have swastika tattoos, and greet each other with the phrase "Heil Hitler." In the book, Benjamin makes direct, clear, unmistakable connections to the current situation in America: At one point, MAGA graffiti is spotted, there are a couple of references to Fox News, and the characters use of words like "libtards." Benjamin shows clear dissatisfaction and disgust with the current state of race/cultural relations in this country, and I sadly have to agree with him in that regard. 

I really enjoyed this book. Not only is it politically aware, but it is current. Anti-semitism is again taking root in America, and we still deal with racial, sexual, and religious discrimination despite our progress as a nation. Just look at the news this week, and you'll see the story of how a white police officer killed a black person for no obvious reason. The fact that it is 2020 and we still have to deal with unwarranted prejudice is astonishing, and we need to take a step back and realize what could happen if we let hatred spread unchecked. It has happened before!   

Judenrein provides an excellent snapshot of what will happen - again -  if hatred, discrimination, and violence are allowed to continue to pollute the hearts and minds of people.

Full disclosure: I was contacted by the author himself roughly a week ago via email, and he offered to send a copy of this book in exchange for a review. I agreed. Two or three days later, I got this copy with a handwritten note inside, saying, "For Julia, Wishing you much success in all your endeavors! Harry B." Mr. Benjamin, I want to thank you for your generous gift. I loved every page of your book!


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