Falling into Place

Since work is suspended, I ended up speeding through this book.

This is a heavy one – dealing with topics such as depression, suicide, drug use, alcohol, bullying, grief and pregnancy in the context of high school students. Sometimes, I personally wish most of the situations that play out in the narrative are far from what is actually happening but times may indeed have changed since I was in high school. Or, I was just comfortably sitting in the outer circle reading the classics or solving mathematics problems. Nevertheless, this is a good read as it explores the thoughts of someone who planned and committed her suicide.

The story is told primarily from the point of view of the Liz, the resident queen bee, and her two best friends. All of them are broken pieces drawing strength from each other. Their strength as a team, however, most often than not result to destructive consequences for the people around them and even to themselves. There is almost a sense of reckless abandon in the group, particularly for Liz, yet with glimpses of vulnerability, hope and dreams in each of them.

Out of the seven billion people sharing the planet with her, not one of them knew what was going through her head. Not one of them knew that she was lost. Not one of them asked.

That thought of Liz as quoted above is quite powerful. It speaks of how there can be layers to a person; how one's thoughts may not readily be apparent from her actions. Yet, she wants someone to check on her. She actually tried to reach out to the guidance counselor in the story but the trust was just not there and she ended up discarding the counselor's advice in the process.

The story, for me, was also able to flesh out her two best friends – Julia and Kennie – quite well. By the end of it, I understood their personality and their hardships, which is beyond the facade they have been projecting to other students at Meridian High School. There was no mention of what happened to them in the epilogue but I hope they delivered on their promises to Liz while she was still in the hospital surrounded by machines and tubes. And, for Liam, I hope he realizes he deserves someone more – no need to look after broken pieces.

The story was told in various timelines – before the planned suicide, minutes before the crash, and after the crash with recollections from Liz' childhood sprinkled in the narrative. For me, the arrangement was quite ok even if it is not linear since I was able to follow the flow of the story. I found her childhood to be very important in the narrative as it appeared that she never really recovered from her grief in losing her father at an early age. My main concern in reading the book, however, is the voice being used in some of the chapters. I thought she had a sibling but it was just the voice of her imaginary friend. I found it odd.

All in all, it was a good read but a bit too heavy. I should choose my next book carefully.

The book ended with details on resources available 24/7 for people who need help, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK [8755] or http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org) or the Crisis Text Line (text LISTEN to 741-741). For the Philippines, Hopeline may be reached at (02) 804-4637; 0917-5584673; and 2919 for Globe and TM subscribers (source: gmanewsonline website).

The book also shared some of the signs, namely deep sadness, loss of interest/withdrawal, trouble sleeping or eating, having a death wish such as taking unnecessary risks, increasing use of alcohol or drugs, and mood swings.


Finding Our Forever

This is not my usual read. I found it a bit too raunchy than necessary and was not completely satisfied with how everything turned out. I am still thinking what about the description got my attention, or was it simply the title?

Nevertheless, there is still a lot to take away from the book. My personal favorite is how the book shows that our past may affect our present and/or future but it does not have the power to fully shape it. From Aiyana to Eli, it was evident how change can still happen even if you are from dire situations.

My main reservation with the book was with Cora, the main female protagonist. But it may be a case of, as Cora puts it, "I haven't experienced anything like what you have, which is why I hesitate to offer any advice. I don't appreciate it when people tell me what I should do or how I should feel about certain things when they've never been in the same situation."

Then, just to share some of the quotes I liked in the book:

Creative endeavors are one of the best tools we have to ease the pain and anger that's inside many of them

It's the same with regular parents. All kids should be grateful and aware of their parent's sacrifice.

It's important to know when fear's doing the talking – to keep things straight in your head.

At least, it had a happy ending.

Inside Out and Back Again

A quick heart warming read. The story was told using the voice of Ha, a young Vietnamese girl, who, together with her mom and three older brothers, fled her home country due to war and found herself in Alabama.

It is a very unfortunate circumstance and trying time, which you can feel through Ha's sentiments. Even if the book used verses instead of sentences, it was, for me, able to convey the emotions throughout their journey. And, after reading the author's note, the authenticity in the emotions was probably made possible since the author experienced first hand elements of Ha's journey. The author's own memories were used as an inspiration for the story.

Not much to say other than I am happy it ended in a hopeful note. I can let myself imagine happy endings for Ha, her mother and her brothers.

The One and Only Ivan

This was a quick but a great read. The story is told from the point of view of Ivan, a Silverback Gorilla, who was captured as a baby, raised as a human then finds himself in a cage in a mall along the highway when he got too big. He shares the mall with other exotic animals, including the wise Stella, an elephant, and Bob, the stray dog. Then Ruby, a juvenile elephant, comes along.

I know it is hard to put into words how animals really think, since we do not really know how or what they think about. But, for me, the book was able to adequately put into words what they may be thinking. It is as if the author was able to empathize with Ivan, Stella, Bob and Ruby.

The glass says you are this and we are that and that is how it will always be. – Ivan

A lot of insights, which is only possible through observation, was also present in the book.

I’ve learned to understand human words over the years, but understanding human speech is not the same as understanding humans. – Ivan

Gorillas aren’t chatty, like humans, prone to gossip and bad jokes. – Ivan

Humans in the story were depicted in various ways – insensitive, brutal or caring, which I think is the simplest classification possible. Ivan was lucky to have Julia and her father George as keepers in the mall since they were instrumental leading to the story's conclusion. Julia, in particular, was key. The world needs more of her really.

Additional quotes I liked from the book are:

  • This one talks about focusing on yourself and not what others think –

Humans don’t always seem to recognize what I’ve drawn. They squint, cock their heads, murmur. I’ll draw a banana, a perfectly lovely banana, and they’ll say, “It’s a yellow airplane!” or “It’s a duck without wings!” That’s all right. I’m not drawing for them. I’m drawing for me.

  • Another one is on memories, as mentioned by Stella the Elephant –

“There’s a difference,” Stella says gently, “between ‘can’t remember’ and ‘won’t remember.’” “That’s true,” I admit. Not remembering can be difficult, but I’ve had a lot of time to work on it. “Memories are precious,” Stella adds. “They help tell us who we are.

Overall, I liked this book. Simple but a lot of heart in its pages.

I am still on the fence as to zoos over natural habitat but reading a lot about poaching and illegal hunting makes me think twice. But, I know animals need protection from humans since they are defenseless against bullets and greed, among others.

The 100-Year Old Man who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared

This book told the story of Allan Karlson in two timelines – from childhood up to his 100th birthday and then what happened after he climbed out of the window (spanning around 30 days).

My mistake in approaching this book was how serious I was. This book shall be read light heartedly, especially with how absurd and outrageous it is. I do not do spoilers but suffice to say this book covered a lot of mileage – from Sweden, China, Spain, North Korea, France, Iran, USA and Indonesia. And, for someone totally uninterested in politics, Allan Karlson was able to meet a lot of political figures – Truman, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Kim Jong Il, Churchill, etc.

When I closed this book, I remembered how old folks can tell grandiose stories. Stories wherein you patiently listen to but, at the end of the day, process and separate the truths from the half truths. For Allan, having gotten to 100 years old, imagine how grand his stories were. Oh, how far his knowledge of explosives has gotten him.

But his story did not end at the home for the aged. For someone who lived through a lot of adventures, maybe that is really not a fitting end. So, it was a good thing he decided to climb out of his window on the eve of his 100th birthday.

The almost 30 days that followed were as absurd as his 100 years – with lots of cash, gang, police chase and even an adopted elephant. Maybe Allan really attracts all the weird stuff in his life… and, if that is so, all the stories regarding his 100 years may have a grain of truth in it after all.

Overall, this is a crazy read. Approach with caution and an open mind.

The Inexplicable Logic of my Life

This is a beautiful book. Honestly, I could probably rank this as one of the best books I have ever read. It has a lot of heart and soul in it. For me, it is able to maturely discuss a lot of sensitive matters, such as the different kinds of loving, grieving, death, and family.

It followed the growth of Salvador from boyhood to manhood through his thoughts. He was blessed with a wonderful support group – Sam, Fito, Mima, Vicente and Marcos – but not an ordinary life. (Though if I think about it, is there really an ordinary life?) Each of the main characters have their own challenges and it is so easy to warm up to them and cheer them on.

There is so much to pick up from this book that I know when I read it again, I would have another favorite quote depending on what I am going through at that point. But, for now, my favorite would have to be this line:

I finally understood something about life and its inexplicable logic. I’d wanted to be certain of everything, and life was never going to give me any certitude. – Salvador

This book also has Vicente Silva, whom I could say now as one of my favorite characters ever. He, for me, can be likened to Albus Dumbledore or Atticus Finch, particularly in his role in guiding Salvador, Sam and Fito in this inexplicable thing called life.

My dad nodded. “Can I just say one thing, Salvador?” “Sure.” “There’s nothing ordinary about you. Nothing ordinary at all.”

Mima, Salvador's grandmother, was also quite special. It was through her that I learned about the beautiful phrase "Dejate Querer", which loosely translates to "let yourself be loved".

Again, such a beautiful book. Thank you Benjamin Alire Saenz for this gift.

Some other quotes from the book:

On anger –

“Okay, maybe I can get this right. Anger is an emotion. But there’s always something behind anger. Something stronger. You know what that is?” “Is that a trick question?” “It comes from fear, son. That’s where it comes from. All you have to do is figure out what you’re afraid of.”

And one more thing: I didn’t want to admit that I had anger living somewhere inside me. But that anger didn’t make me a “bad boy.” All it did was make me human. There was nothing wrong with getting angry. It was what you did with that anger that mattered. – Salvador

On loving –

“I know you don’t. You don’t think she really loves Sam—but she does. Everybody doesn’t love in the same way, Salvie. And just because she doesn’t love Sam the way you or I would like her to doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her daughter. It’s very difficult being a single mom.” – Vicente

On being one's self –

“I never wanted you to be anything, Sally. I’ve always just wanted you to be you.” – Sam

On living –

When is the right time for anything? Who knows? Living is an art, not a science. – Vicente

“Do you remember what you told me?” “I remember,” she said. “I told you that there were only two things you needed to learn in life. You needed to learn how to forgive. And you needed to learn how to be happy.” – Mima

“I know you sometimes think that people are like books. But our lives don’t have neat logical plots, and we don’t always say beautiful, intelligent things like the characters in a novel. That’s not the way life is. And we’re not like letters—” – Vicente

Highways are nice and paved, and they have signs telling you which way to go. Life isn’t like that at all.