Strange the Dreamer

Strange the Dreamer is a beautifully written and well thought of book. Its narrative was brilliantly constructed such that I was able to empathise with the characters, both main and secondary, as the story progressed. And, this is the first time where I truly felt that there is no real villain in the story; rather, I see all the competing forces as a result of the past – as if all the characters are victims of monsters and horrors of the past. As tidbits of information slowly unfold in the narrative, actions and mentality of the characters felt more realistic and reasonable. There is so much pain in it (in various forms), it bounces off the pages.

But of course, there was hope. That hope is in the form of Lazlo Strange with the help of Sarai. Lazlo is such a lovable character. I am unsure what superlative to use but suffice to say he is now on my list of favorite male characters in any book I have read. The first few chapters were enough for me to relate to him.

Lazlo owned nothing, not one single thing, but from the first, the stories felt like his own hoard of gold.

He believed in magic, like a child, and in ghosts, like a peasant. His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales his first day on the job, and that, they said, told you everything you needed to know about strange Lazlo Strange: head in the clouds, world of his own, fairy tales and fancy.

He was like a caged bird waiting for his moment to fly.

These visions of freedom and plenty bewitched him. Certainly, they distracted from spiritual contemplation, but in the same way that the sight of a shooting star distracts from the ache of an empty belly. They marked his first consideration that there might be other ways of living than the one he knew. Better, sweeter ways.

Throughout the book, I could not really help but wish him well… and I was happy and inspired when he really took the initiative to be part of his dreams even if the odds or the situation were against him. The wisdom from his head Librarian spoke volumes and I am glad Lazlo was able to find the courage to really speak up when it mattered.

“Do you want to end your days a half-blind troglodyte hobbling through the bowels of the library?” the old man demanded. “Get out of doors, Strange. Breathe air, see things. A man should have squint lines from looking at the horizon, not just from reading in dim light.”

“Life won’t just happen to you, boy,” he said. “You have to happen to it. Remember: The spirit grows sluggish when you neglect the passions.”

I am trying my best to not include spoilers. So, to put it simply, Lazlo’s growth throughout the book, including the people he meets along the way – Sarai, Erik-Fane, Azareen, etc -, produced a very heartwarming story.

My favorite scene remains Lazlo and Sarai’s dreamworld sequence, which is best read to fully appreciate how beautifully written and magical it was.

Honestly, I am curious how the 2nd book would go. But as it is, this was an amazing read. The words were able to capture the emotions – pain, happiness, sadness, longing – and magic of the various moments and experiences. The setting was also something new, which was a good exercise for the imagination. I would gladly read this again.

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They Both Die at the End

In an alternate reality where you get a call on the day you are about to die… how would you spend your last day? Who do you spend it with?
…this book told the story of how Rufus and Mateo spent theirs.

This book had the same structure with one of the books I read this year (The Sun is also a Star), which was an alternating point of view between the two leads sprinkled with point of view from some of the characters they have or will encounter along the narrative. It also had the same timeframe, which is just one day. Both leads were also strangers to each other prior to this one day.

But, the stories were definitely different. In this book, Rufus and Mateo will die at the end, that is pretty much set. This element, in itself, added a lot of interesting points to tackle. There is an interesting mix of realizations throughout the book cognizant of the suddent finiteness of the time they have to keep living.

About goodbyes –

goodbyes are “the most possible impossible” ’cause you never wanna say them, but you’d be stupid not to when given the shot.

About our stories –

He once told me that stories can make someone immortal as long as someone else is willing to listen.

About doing good things –

“This isn’t about karma. I’m not trying to rack up I’m-a-Good-Person points.” You shouldn’t donate to charity, help the elderly cross the street, or rescue puppies in the hopes you’ll be repaid later. I may not be able to cure cancer or end world hunger, but small kindnesses go a long way. Not that I’m saying any of this to Rufus, since all my classmates used to mock me for saying things like that, and no one should feel bad for trying to be good.

About fear –

Yes, we live, or we’re given the chance to, at least, but sometimes living is hard and complicated because of fear.

About our relationships –

You may be born into a family, but you walk into friendships. Some you’ll discover you should put behind you. Others are worth every risk.

Throughout the book, Mateo and Rufus’ walls and defenses, including fears and insecurities, were slowly breaking down with the help of each other. They were actually quite a match and it is a pain that they met too late… late in the sense that death it upon both of them in less than 24 hours that they met.

But they made their last day count – they were able to properly say goodbye to people that mattered in their lives and they made a lot of experiences together. They did not hold back on living even when they knew their time was up.

Again, I knew how the story would end. But the day was so magical and can be pretty much summarized by this line from Mateo:

“I would’ve loved you if we had more time.” I spit it out because it’s what I’m feeling in this moment and was feeling the many moments, minutes, and hours before. “Maybe I already do. I hope you don’t hate me for saying that, but I know I’m happy.”

“People have their time stamps on how long you should know someone before earning the right to say it, but I wouldn’t lie to you no matter how little time we have. People waste time and wait for the right moment and we don’t have that luxury. If we had our entire lives ahead of us I bet you’d get tired of me telling you how much I love you because I’m positive that’s the path we were heading on. But because we’re about to die, I want to say it as many times as I want—I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Loving and feeling loved (for Mateo, it was Lidia and Rufus; for Rufus, it was the Plutos and Mateo) on your last day is such a gift. Really not a bad way to go for both of them.

The Sun is also a Star

The Sun is also a Star tells the story of a day spent by Natasha, an illegal immigrant about to be deported, and Daniel, a Korean American about to go to an interview for Yale.

Natasha holds on to science while Daniel dreams of writing poems. It is a contrast that was evident from the start.

Natasha –

When they say the heart wants what it wants, they’re talking about the poetic heart—the heart of love songs and soliloquies, the one that can break as if it were just-formed glass. They’re not talking about the real heart, the one that only needs healthy foods and aerobic exercise. But the poetic heart is not to be trusted. It is fickle and will lead you astray. It will tell you that all you need is love and dreams. It will say nothing about food and water and shelter and money. It will tell you that this person, the one in front of you, the one who caught your eye for whatever reason, is the One.

Daniel –

“We have big, beautiful brains. We invent things that fly. Fly. We write poetry. You probably hate poetry, but it’s hard to argue with ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate’ in terms of sheer beauty. We are capable of big lives. A big history. Why settle? Why choose the practical thing, the mundane thing? We are born to dream and make the things we dream about.”

But with the help of a study about falling in love, which includes a set of questions and a 4-minute eye contact, coupled with Daniel’s charm and persistence, they find safe place with each other. They had an undeniable and unexplained connection – as if the universe conspired for their paths to cross for this day.

The narrative consistently shifts its point of view between the two. And for me, it worked. I understood both Natasha and Daniel, including their concerns, opinions and decisions. I felt the difference between the two and how they eventually melded to each other.

Moreover, I liked that it had chapters for the other characters as well. As a reader, I was treated to how Natasha’s father, Atty. Fitzgerald, Irene, etc, see things. This part for me was not overdone as it was enough for readers to better understand the other characters in the story. The narrative was also made more interesting by chapters that expound on certain points made by Natasha and Daniel, such as history of hair and narrative on eyes.

And what about the lovers who spend hours staring into each other’s eyes? Is it a display of trust? I will let you in close and trust you not to hurt me while I’m in this vulnerable position. And if trust is one of the foundations of love, perhaps the staring is a way to build or reinforce it. Or maybe it’s simpler than that.
A simple search for connection.
To see.
To be seen.

Admittedly, my conservative self is stilI shocked how quickly the events unfolded but I guess that is how strong their connection was. But, I also like Daniel as he was not really pushy… for me, he respected Natasha. I am still on the fence about saying if it was love since it was only for a day but I would not deny the connection they had.

My favorite line in this book reads:

Maybe part of falling in love with someone else is also falling in love with yourself.

I agree to this. Though we should not need someone else to love ourselves, I think there are certain aspects wherein it will help to do so (maybe speed up the process somehow?).

I was surprised how fast I was able to read my way through this book but I guess it was mostly due to its structure with very short chapters and shifting point of view. Would I read it again? Maybe, but not anytime soon. After all, my kindle library has been expanding faster than I could keep up.

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.

Flawed

I am a fan of Cecelia Ahern. I started with Thanks for the Memories and I have not stopped since. 

Flawed, however, was a total turnaround story wise for her that I had to check if I got the author right. Don’t get me wrong, I also liked this book; but, the light feeling I usually have after reading Ahern’s books is not here in this one.

Flawed follows the life of Celestine North, who was suddenly thrust into the spotlight simply for doing an act that is against the law but is the right thing to do. I don’t do spoilers but suffice to say that the absurdity of the reasoning got stuck with me that I breezed through the book in quite a short time. 

I just could not believe the consequences of Celestine’s simple act of compassion. It poses the question of “are you willing to do the right thing even if it is the hard choice?”. Some would just argue maybe it was not the right thing after all. But then again, thinking about it is different from actually doing it. I know that in every day, there are struggles in making the right call – especially if self preservation surfaces. 

I’ve learned that people aren’t cruel. Most people aren’t anyway, but people are strong on self-preservation. And if something doesn’t directly affect them, they don’t get involved.

Courage and strength – if only someone could have an endless supply of it.

I’ve learned that to be courageous is to feel fear within, every step of the way. Courage does not take over, it fights and struggles through every word you say and every step you take. It’s a battle or a dance as to whether to let it pervade. It takes courage to overcome, but it takes extreme fear to be courageous.

One thing Celestine has going for her though is the amazing support from her family. They stuck with her even with the additional challenges of having a Flawed person at the house – dad, mom, grand dad and even her sister. I honestly do not know how one person can survive a branding without a strong support system, especially with consequences that severe.
To end, I want to highlight this quote from her math teacher:

We see being Flawed as a strength, Celestine. If you make a mistake, you learn from it. If you never make a mistake, you’re never the wiser.

Totally agree. 

This book, however, has a sequel; so, as expected, it ends with a cliffhanger (good thing the Kindle version I bought had ten preview chapters).