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Book Review: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashada

June 24, 2016 2 comments

Book Review: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki HigashadaSummary:
Born in 1992 and diagnosed with Autism at the age of 5, Naoki uses an alphabet board to painstakingly write. In this book, he addresses answers to common questions neurotypicals have about people with Autism, such as “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” and “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” Mixed in with answers to these questions are short stories that Naoki has written, squashing the myth that those with Autism lack imagination.

Review:
I read this for Katie of Doing Dewey’s Nonfiction Book Club back in April, which was also Autism Awareness Month. I don’t often have the time to do group reads, but this book appealed to me and was short, would count for the Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge I host, and I was able to get a digital copy from the Boston Public Library. I read this in one day in just my morning and evening commutes. It’s a short but mind-opening work.

For those who don’t know, Autism is a spectrum disorder. This basically means that Autism can severely or minorly impact how a person with it functions with the world (and everything in-between). Someone who is high functioning may mostly just strike others as a bit odd, whereas those most severely impacted are unable to communicate at all. You may read more about Autism here.

Naoki’s Autism is more severe. He is mostly unable to speak but he has learned how to communicate by pointing to an alphabet board with an assistant who writes down what he points at. Since Autism is so individualized, bare in mind when reading this book that his answers might not necessarily apply to everyone with Autism. That said, Naoki generally answers the questions with the word we, not I. My suspicion is this may be due to cultural reasons. Naoki is Japanese, which is generally a less individualized culture than our own. Additionally, his words have been filtered through a translator. It’s important, I believe, for a reader to keep all of these things in mind when reading this book.

This is a short book and an easy read, so I won’t say too much beyond the two biggest takeaways I had. First, I think in general people often wonder if people with Autism are similar to neurotypicals inside or are completely foreign. I think Naoki’s book smashes that question with a sledgehammer. It left me with the distinct impression that people with Autism are extremely similar to neurotypicals, but their signals from their bodies interfere with their ability to interact with the world. But Naoki puts this better than me.

It’s as if we’re remote-controlling a faulty robot. (page 16)

My second takeaway was that we should never make assumptions about anyone with Autism. The biggest example of this is that it is generally assumed people with Autism do not have an imagination. (I’ve even seen having an imagination being used as a way to rule out some people as having high functioning Autism). But Naoki, who very clearly has Autism, also very clearly has a bright imagination. His own short stories are inter-mixed throughout the book. They struck me as things any 13-year-old might write. That may sound simple, but that’s a big deal for a person who others might assume is “abnormal” for 13 with “no imagination.”

I do wish that the person interviewing Naoki had asked a wider variety of questions. Some of the questions can get a bit repetitive, and I wondered why they didn’t ask something deeper. Instead of continually asking things like why do you do this or why do you do that ask more about what he enjoys. What his hopes and dreams are. Does he think there’s a god. Things like that.

Overall, though, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is curious about what it’s like to have Autism, as well as to those who do or may come into contact with someone with Autism.

 

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge

Book Review: Bellwether by Connie Willis

Book Review: Bellwether by Connie WillisSummary:
Sandra Foster studies fads and their meanings for the HiTek corporation. Bennet O’Reilly works with monkey group behavior and chaos theory for the same company. When the two are thrust together due to a misdelivered package and a run of seemingly bad luck, they find a joint project in a flock of sheep.

Review:
This was given to me eons ago because of how much I love To Say Nothing of the Dog (review) by Connie Willis. This book has a similar sense of humor that definitely kept me entertained but the plot and backstory that ties it all together didn’t hit quite the same loved it nerve with me.

I loved seeing a book set in the mountain range area of the country (Colorado to be precise). I feel like this doesn’t happen often enough in books. I also found there was a real nostalgia quality to the book because it was first published in 1996 and set in its own time-period, so the whole thing just screamed 90s nostalgia to me. This played in well to Sandra’s fad studies. It gave the book a good reason to notice and talk about the fads, and this held up well over time. What originally was a “oh look at this silly thing people are doing right now” became “hey remember when West Coast coffee was first a thing?” I also really appreciated that a social science was featured at the core of a scifi book. Not just that but a scientist of a science deemed more important and sciencey (chaos theory) ends up working with her and respecting her research and its methods. Super cool.

While I thought the research study was cool, I wasn’t as huge of a fan of the competition to receive the grant of a lifetime plot. I appreciated Sandra working to save her job, but the big grant loomed overhead from the very beginning like a deus ex machina. Sandra’s disdain for her coworkers wanting to ban smoking from the building as a fad really didn’t translate well over time. This wasn’t a fad; it was a public health policy, and it rubbed me wrong every time Sandra implied it was like the whole are eggs good or bad for you debate. Second-hand smoke is just bad for you, and unlike a coworker eating an egg, it can actually impact your health if you’re around it. I’m sure it was funnier in the 90s but it didn’t work so well now, and it honestly made me dislike Sandra a bit.

Overall, scifi fans looking for a humorous plot with a female lead, an unusual focus on the social sciences with a dash of 1990s nostalgia will enjoy this book.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Book Review: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee

February 24, 2016 2 comments

Book Review: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost & Gail SteketeeSummary:
It may be difficult to describe a hoard, but you know one when you see one. Maybe you have a neighbor who keeps their shades drawn but when you enter their home you see piles and piles of stuff that either they keep for a project they’ll do one day or because every scrap of it contains important information (according to them). Maybe you’ve only encountered hoarding through reality tv shows focused around the forced clean-up of homes that immediately appear unlivable to you but yet that the person on the show insists is full of treasures. Or maybe you grew up in a home where the hoard slowly encroached on your own room

Between 2 and 5 percent of the population suffers from Hoarding Disorder. Frost and Steketee were the first to begin scientifically studying it. Here, couched in tales of real interactions with and homes of clients (who granted their permission to be featured in an anonymized fashion) Frost and Steketee present both what we know and what we don’t know about hoarding, as well as best practices for helping someone with the disorder.

Review:
As an outside observer of a hoard, it can often be difficult to imagine what leads a person to believe trash is treasure. But of course it’s more complicated than someone just being unable to recognize trash. After all…one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The authors attack this head-on by first giving a true definition to what counts as hoarding and then talking about various causes and possible presentations of the disorder. So what counts as hoarding?

It hardly matters how much stuff anyone owns as long as it doesn’t interfere with his or her health or happiness or that of others….Hoarding is not defined by the number of possessions, but by how the acquisition and management of those possessions affects their owner. (page 58)

So basically, it counts as hoarding if the collection of items interferes with the person’s health or happiness or the health or happiness of others nearby. The complicated gray area of course is that the sufferer may not realize that the hoard is interfering with their happiness and health. That is the point of conflict for many loved ones of people who hoard.

After establishing and defining what hoarding disorder is and is not, the authors continue on to analyze the behavior and mind of someone suffering from hoarding. Fascinatingly, hoarding shares commonalities with many other mental illnesses, seeming to a certain extent to defy categorization, although the DSM 5 currently lists it among “Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders.” Are you shocked? Did you think that OCD always means cleanliness? The fact is that is often not what OCD means. It’s a misunderstanding spurred on by popular culture. OCD is an obsession. It can be with cleaning and germs but it can also be with anything. It also often features repetitive behaviors. If you think about it, you can see what hoarding has in common with this. People who hoard become obsessed with the idea of not losing something important, of collecting everything relevant to a certain idea, of not wasting things. They also can come to establish repetitive behaviors such as maybe always buying a newspaper from a certain store on the way home from work. Another similarity with OCD is that hoarders often are perfectionists. Part of why their homes become cluttered is they are obsessed with only doing a perfect job of cleaning up or of fixing something or using some item for a project, and they become paralyzed with the fear that they can’t do it good enough, so they never start.

The authors also talk about how hoarding has commonalities with Impulse-Control Disorders, such as gambling and compulsive buying. Many people who hoard also struggle with both of these ICDs, and it’s easy to see the relationship here. Similarly, many hoarders show symptoms of ADD. They often do much better cleaning up if there is simply someone there to help them maintain focus, rather than being easily distracted.

Hoarding is also often a result of trauma. People suffer a trauma and essentially attempt to build a protective space around themselves by hoarding.

Compared to people who do not suffer from hoarding problems, clutterers report a greater variety of traumatic events (an average of six versus three), as well as a greater frequency (an average of fourteen versus five) of such events. The type of trauma most often experienced by hoarders include having had something taken by threat or force, being forced into sexual activity, and being physically assaulted. (page 87)

Interestingly, there’s a comparatively low incidence of PTSD among hoarders, in spite of such a high incidence of trauma. (A 2006 study found only 6% of hoarders had PTSD, page 91). It is possible that hoarding prevents the development of PTSD. Many hoarders also report a childhood devoid of warmth and support, so even if they were not traumatized, it is still likely that they had a cold, distant childhood. In contrast to PTSD, the majority of hoarders (nearly 60%) meet the criteria for major depression, and it is posited that this depression could be in response to the hoarding itself.

People draw conclusions about their worth and competence based on their inability to control their living space, and not being able to entertain people in their homes isolates them and limits their social lives. (loc 532)

The authors then talk about what may be going on in the heads of people who hoard. People don’t do things completely irrationally. There are reasons for it. There are multiple possibilities for hoarding of what may be going on. No single aspect has been determined yet.  However, in general, hoarders suffer from a different type of threat signal. They fear something being removed, rather than the presence of something. It has also been posited that they have the opposite of claustrophobia. They feel safer in small, tight spaces, so they artificially create them. Hoarders also frequently struggle with identity. Rather than knowing who they are, they often are defined by the question “Who am I?” and collect items to try to show who they are. In addition to the aforementioned perfectionism, hoarders also seem to view items differently from the rest of us. They are generally very optimistic about future usefulness and can be quite creative as to reusing things. It has been posited that hoarding may be creativity run amok. However, many hoarders also gamble compulsively and the relationship between a hoarder’s positive thinking and a gambler’s is interesting.

“Seeing the scratch tickets over the counter at the convenience store leads me to think, One of those tickets is surely a winner, maybe a million-dollar winner. How can I walk away when the opportunity is there?” Our hoarders have said similar things about items they’ve wanted to acquire. (loc 202)

Distress avoidance is also often a common feature. Distress avoidance is when a person seeks to avoid a situation that they think will cause them distress. They then build up that situation in their heads to be more of a stressor than it actually would be. Continual avoidance of these types of situations also weakens a person’s ability to deal with them (due to lack of practice), so it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Animal hoarding is its own special subcategory, and it seems that in addition to all of the other possible hoarding issues, animal hoarders may suffer from a form of an attachment disorder where their bonds with other humans are frayed and easily broken and replaced by bonds with animals.

So, essentially, hoarders are often people who are perfectionists who tend to perform rituals and struggle with impulse control. They may compulsively shop and/or gamble in addition to hoarding. They often had cold, distant childhoods and/or suffered a trauma (or traumas). They tend to come at life from a basis of fear and feel safer in tight, closed spaces, and their fear is heightened by removal of things, rather than appearance of new things. At some point, they started avoiding distress, and this distress avoidance became a self-fulfilling cycle. They also frequently struggle with knowing who they are internally, rather looking outward to possessions for identity signals.  In addition to these compulsions and fears, hoarders also often see things differently or in more detail than non-hoarders, and they also struggle to focus or concentrate, making cleaning up even more difficult for them.

The authors conclude by discussing both how to treat hoarding and effects on family members and loved ones (as well as on communities). The authors stress repeatedly that forced clean-ups are the absolute worst possible solution or treatment option. A forced clean-up just fulfills the person’s fear that people are out to get them, and simply makes them cling on to their possessions even more aggressively. It also can make them more depressed. Since their identity is wrapped up in their possessions, getting rid of them by force can cause emotional trauma akin to someone chopping off your hair by force. I was stunned to learn that there have been cases of people who hoard committing suicide after a forced clean-up. The authors strongly advocate for the much slower, but with more long-term positive results, method of going through the hoard with the person slowly and basically teaching them new ways to think about both their possessions and their identity. They also state that it’s easier to treat compulsive buying and gambling than hoarding, so when possible treat that first to prevent the arrival of new items into the hoard. It is a long, difficult treatment plan to go through a hoard slowly, and sometimes it may be necessary to remove the person from the home for safety but then to return with them repeatedly to work on cleaning out the hoard.

The fact that forced clean-ups are the worst possible solution for the sufferer and the fact that hoards get worse over time leads me to believe that early interventions are absolutely critical to render the most help to those suffering from hoarding. But this is a complex thing. Since many cases of hoarding start due to a cold home environment or from trauma, it may be difficult to get parents behind addressing the situation early. Many people who hoard interviewed in the book talk about their hoarding beginning to get out of control by late in their freshman year of college. Perhaps this is something colleges should be keeping an eye out and offering help for. Additionally, shame is often mentioned as a factor in keeping the problem hidden. Perhaps PSAs and other public service campaigns could both lessen the stigma and offer help to people early on in the development of a hoard.

So much of hoarding is stigmatized. To a certain extent this is understandable. It often isn’t seen by the public until it has reached a public health crisis level or in situations where animal hoarders are keeping their hoards in deplorable conditions. Often loved ones of those who hoard feel trapped and frustrated by the hoarding. They feel as if the loved one loves their stuff more than them. These are complex issues and professional help is required to address them. I honestly don’t think this is a situation that is easily handled one family at a time. A family member must be well-informed and patient and empathetic enough to wait through the long treatment process. Often that family member is the child of the hoarder and therefore a minor with no power, which makes the issue even more complex. This is definitely a situation in which public health education campaigns on things like early warning signs of hoarding tendencies and ways to seek help could be extremely helpful long-term. I do believe the authors could have taken things one step further at the end of the book to this connection to public health, rather than mostly focusing on individual therapy. They do mention less consumerism would be helpful, but that simply is not much of an observation. It is a small complaint, but I do feel that this interdisciplinary leap is important.

Overall, this was a fascinating, enlightening book. The authors have conducted extensive scientific research for years, and they do an awesome job of writing this information at the consumer level, as well as humanizing it by bringing in real cases with clients who they render in a three-dimensional fashion. I know I for one will never be able to stomach watching forced clean-ups on the tv show “Hoarders” again. Recommended to really everyone. Anyone could potentially know someone who struggles with hoarding, whether now or in the future, and the book is very readable.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Illness(es) featured: Hoarding Disorder

Book Review: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant

October 30, 2015 1 comment

Book Review: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy BryantSummary:
Running from his demons, a man crashes his car and wakes up being assisted by a deceptively primitive people–the kin of Ata. He discovers that he’s been mysteriously brought to an island inhabited only by these people.  As time passes, he comes to learn there is much more to them than first appears.

Review:
I can’t recall exactly how this ended up in my tbr but I am certain it had something to do with it being older feminist scifi/fantasy, which I collect and read as much as possible.  What I was expecting, particularly from a book from the 1970s, was a wishful book about an impossible utopia.  What I got instead was a spiritual parable that left me breathless, surprised, and craving more–not out of the book but out of life.

The book starts slowly.  The entire first chapter has the main character driving angrily down a road just after committing a murder during a fit of rage.  He is not a character with which you can particularly empathize at this point, and it is confusing as to just when the titular Kin of Ata will show up.  I admit that the first chapter moved so slowly and was so difficult to relate to that I was expecting the book to be a slog, but I persevered on, and in retrospect I appreciate the first chapter quite a bit.  I’ll discuss why at the end of my review.

The man wakes up to people getting him out of the car and bringing him to a cave.  They then bring him out of the cave to their hut-like homes.  He perceives of them as primitive and judges them harshly.  Gradually over time he comes to better understand them and their ways and to understand that he is not with primitive people hidden in the woods near his home.  He is on an island, and he somehow was spirited there.  I won’t discuss much more of the plot, because it could ruin it, but essentially the man is a stand-in for the reader.  The Kin of Ata have spiritual lessons and teach them to the man, and in turn to the reader.  It comes across much like a parable.

The Kin believe that humans need to remember and respect their dreams (actual dreams we have at night).  They view our sleeping lives as just as important, if not more so, than our waking ones.  They thus design their waking lives to be lived in the right manner so as to elicit the most powerful dreams.  This means things like working but not too hard.  Thus making yourself tired enough to sleep but not so tired that you sleep the sleep of the dead.  It also means discussing your dreams every morning upon awaking.  It means listening to your dreams and choosing daytime activities that suit what they are telling you.  Put another way, the Kin choose daytime activities that fit the callings of their deepest souls.  They essentially live a very mindful life that helps them achieve happiness and a peaceful community.

The main character starts out as a deep blight on the community.  He keeps trying to force his ways upon them. He comes across as an angry cloud.  In addition to being a murderer he also rapes one of the female Kin early on in the book.  I found the depiction of this rape fascinating.  The man sees people having sex with each other in what appears to him to be whenever one person demands it.  In actuality, the people are choosing each other and subtlely letting each other know whether they want to have sex or not.  The man decides he wants to participate and goes after one of the women.  She indicates to him through cultural body language (these people do not speak much) that it is the wrong time.  He does it anyway and she does not resist but she also does not participate.  The whole community judges him as it being a wrong and a rape in spite of the fact that the woman never said no.  The whole community views sex as only consensual if joyous consent is given, not just if the word “no” is not said.  The man is startled and yet also immediately understands their point.  He felt dirty and wrong after the sex and wasn’t sure why but now he understands and doesn’t know why he never thought of it this way before.  He is utterly ashamed of himself.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I struggle with plots that ask us to empathize with a rapist.  It honestly surprised me that this scene didn’t turn me off the book entirely.  Yet this is also a huge turning point for the main character.  He realizes that his way of doing things leads to him feeling bad and wrong and negatively impacts others.  The woman spends several days in a cavelike place, which is basically where the Kin go to meditate.  When she comes out, she forgives the man, because harboring a grudge against him would hurt her own ability to live the right path.  I found the whole event of how the community confronts the man about his wrongdoing, how he responds to this confrontation, and how the woman handles it to be incredibly thought-provoking.  It made me think about how much culture impacts people’s ability to even recognize when they’ve done something wrong.  Also, much as I had heard many times growing up how harboring hate in your own heart poisons yourself and not the one who harmed you, seeing a character fully embrace this after a traumatic experience made it sink in much more for me than just hearing the saying ever did.

This scene also served another purpose.  It reminded me that we’ve all done things we’re ashamed of and showed a path of redemption.  The man starts to pursue living the right way.  He has set-backs and stumbles.  It sometimes takes years for him to see the results of certain actions that he starts doing the right way.  It takes perseverance, unlike living the easy way, like he used to.  It’s a powerful parable for practices such as meditation, for which you often don’t see results right away.

Similarly, again, I don’t want to spoil it, but the book demonstrates how it takes a community living right for a truly peaceful and happy community to exist.  It also demonstrates, though, how one person who is very strong in their commitment to this right path can impact a whole community that is lost.

I promised to touch back on why I came to appreciate the first chapter.  I appreciate it because it shows us the main character living his life following the wrong path within his own original community.  It shows us where he came from before showing us how he develops into a life so much better through his work with the Kin.  It also makes for a powerful bookend with the final chapter, whose surprise I will not reveal.

This is a powerful parable that demonstrates how much impact living mindfully can have, and also how important developing healthy communities is for the happiness and peace of all.  It shows how wrong cultural ideals can lead people astray and hurt even the perpetrators of violence.  Some may struggle with parts of the book, but that is part of the process of learning the lessons in the parable.  I highly recommend this short book to all seeking a thought-provoking read.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

August 25, 2015 4 comments

Book Review: Remember Me? by Sophie KinsellaSummary:
The last thing Lexi remembers she’s a 24 year old in the year 2004 with bad teeth, a bad boyfriend, and at the bottom of the totem pole in a new job where she hasn’t been working long enough to be able to get the annual bonus.  When she wakes up in hospital, though, she’s told that the year is 2007, she’s 28, the boss of her department, and married to a millionaire!  She’s told she was in a car accident that gave her amnesia, and now she has to piece together just how she got to this place in her life, especially when not everything is as rosy as it seems at first.  Her millionaire husband is controlling, her once best friends give her the cold shoulder, and everyone at work seems to think that she’s a bitch.

Review:
True story. I spotted this sitting on top of a neighbor’s recycling bin and snatched it up as soon as I recognized the author’s name.  I was a big fan of Sophie Kinsella’s in high school, and I just couldn’t bear to see a perfectly nice condition hardcover of one of her books get recycled.  I wondered if I would enjoy her contemporary romance as much now as a late 20-something as I did as a teen.  I’m happy to say I certainly enjoyed this one just as much, although in a slightly different way than I used to.

I wonder how much I would have appreciated this book a few years ago.  As a late-20 something myself, I laughed out loud at how the 24 year old version of me would react if she was plunked into my current life.  A lot really does change in 4 years in your 20s, especially with regards to your career and your love life.  The plot kind of reminded me a bit of the plot of one of my favorite romcoms 13 Going On 30.  Someone who is (or perceives of themselves as) much younger and less experienced than the person whose life they are now living.  How that affects them and how they react to it is really interesting.  Both stories show how important actually going through the growing pains really are.  You can’t just suddenly handle a more adult life; you have to grow into it.

I also appreciated that, although Lexi’s husband is drop-dead gorgeous, both she and he believe she should not sleep with him until she is comfortable with him again.  She may be married to him, but she doesn’t remember who he is, and she shouldn’t do anything until she’s ready.  If she ever is.  Her husband is definitely controlling of her when it comes to how their household is run and how they spend money, but he is very respectful of her sexually.  He doesn’t touch her unless invited to, and he stops when she says to.  I was really happy to see this focus on positive, enthusiastic consent portrayed in the book.

The exploration of Lexi’s career path from lower level to high-powered boss is fascinating.  Lexi is torn up that now that she’s a boss those under her think she’s a bitch.  There’s a nuanced exploration of how women in power are often perceived of as bitches, even if they’re just being assertive.  However, there’s also a nice exploration of how to still be true to yourself when in power.  You don’t necessarily have to lead in the traditional “masculine” way if you don’t want to.  This combined with the exploration of aging gave a depth to the romance that kicked it up a notch for me.

It says a lot for how much the book made me like Lexi that I was able to get past one plot point that usually spoils romances for me.  However, that plot point did knock the book down from 5 to 4 stars for me.

*spoilers*
It turns out that 28 year old Lexi is cheating on her husband.  24 year old Lexi is just as horrified by this as I always am by cheating.  The exploration of how she wound up cheating on him didn’t make it ok to me, but I did appreciate that 24 year old Lexi took agency and addressed the situation, rather than lingering in married but cheating land.  I appreciated that Lexi was able to acknowledge her mistakes, forgive herself for them, and grow and change.
*end spoilers*

Overall, fans of contemporary romance will enjoy this fun take on the amnesia plot.  The plot doesn’t just cover a romance, it also covers the growing pains of being in your 20s, the challenges women face when they become the boss, and how to learn from your mistakes.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Rescued from a recycling bin

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Book Review: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

August 20, 2015 6 comments

Book Review: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara KingsolverSummary:
In 1959 Nathan Price took his wife and four young daughters on a mission to the Congo to spread the Evangelical Baptist message.  Nathan, abusive and stubborn, refuses to listen to anyone around him–not the chief of the village he’s living in, not their Congolese maid, not the organizers of the mission, and certainly not his wife or daughters.  When the Congo’s fight for independence from Belgium arrives, Nathan refuses to return to the United States with lasting consequences on all of the Prices.

Review:
I was told by several people that as a deconvert from the Evangelical Baptist faith I was raised in, I would enjoy this secularly published take on an Evangelical mission to Africa.  While I did enjoy the beginning of the book for its honest look at what missions are actually like, the character development becomes increasingly more lackluster and flat throughout the book, working in direct contrast with an increasingly complex plot and souring the whole book.  Additionally, although the book avoids having a Christian slanted take to missions, it certainly does not manage to tell the neutral story I was hoping for.  The author’s slant is more and more apparent as the book goes on, and it ends up being quite heavy-handed by the end.

The beginning of the book is excellent.  Rather than giving Nathan the voice, all of the story telling is from the point of view of one of the women in his life whom he silences–Orleanna (his wife), Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May.  It is so powerful to see him through their eyes.  To see him striving so hard to maintain control over everyone and simultaneously hear from their thoughts that he can never truly control them.  It’s empowering and simultaneously heartbreaking.

It’s also interesting to see how Nathan’s stubbornness and know-it-all nature prevents him from ever truly connecting to or even helping the people in the village he’s working in.  He thinks his way is always the best, completely missing that he and the villagers could actually trade knowledge and information and all end up better.  Because they are, in his mind, backwards and unsaved, he refuses to ever listen to them.  His refusal to ever bend causes the mission to break.  For instance, he insists on baptism in the river, even though the villagers are afraid to go in the river because of crocodiles.  He could have made a compromise, perhaps a tub of water in the church, but he continues to insist on the river, leading the villagers to believe he is out to get their children killed by crocodiles.  It’s a gentle and subtle message, unlike others in the book, that could be applied to many aspects of many lives.  Be willing to listen, grow, and learn.

Once the Congo rebellion starts though, the book begins a slow slide off the rails.  The voices of the women change from developing toward a well-rounded presentation of their characters to flat cardboard cut-out versions of their original selves.  For instance, Rachel goes from being a femme teenager frustrated with being stuck in the jungle to a cardboard cut-out racist white supremacist.  While being a white supremacist is obviously wrong, Rachel isn’t well-rounded enough to let her still be human.  She is instead a monster, which is a disservice to us all.  It is only by seeing how those who seem monstrous are just humans gone wrong can we learn something.  The same is true of the rest of the women, although they are all taken in different directions toward different stereotypes.  One loses her mental health, another becomes a scholar, etc… But they all become stereotypes rather than older versions of their well-rounded younger selves.

Similarly, although the multiple different perspectives work well for a bunch of different sets of eyes seeing the same situations play out in the same village, when the daughters grow up, the multiple perspectives become instead individual perspectives of their own individual lives with some periodic judgment from one sister to another on how she’s choosing to live her life.  Instead of giving a richly varied representation of one situation, the reader instead gets a slanted viewpoint of several different situations.  It again renders the story flat instead of well-rounded.  I found myself thinking many times that the book would have been better if it had just ended at the end of the section that takes part in the daughters’ childhoods.

The plot and character shifts both line up with a tone shift that goes from neutrally presenting what occurs in the village to having a decided political slant.  It feels as if the point goes from telling a good story to convincing the reader to feel a certain way.  I think it’s interesting that this slant and the weaker writing go hand-in-hand.  It’s a good reminder that if you focus on telling a good story, a message may come across on its own anyway, but don’t try to force a story to fit a message you want to tell.  That hurts the story.

Overall, the beginning of the book is quite strong, featuring an interesting plot and characters but about 2/3 of the way through, it loses its strength, falling into caricature and message pushing that hurt the story as a whole.  Recommended to readers who are quite interested in the beginning and wouldn’t mind skimming the end.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Cowboys and Aliens by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (Graphic Novel)

Book Review: Cowboys and Aliens by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (Grahic Novel)Summary:
In the American Wild West, invading aliens show up, intent to colonize the planet and enslave or destroy the humans.  The warring white settlers and Native Americans must put aside their own battle for control of the land and defend it from offworlders.

Review:
This was given as a gift to me, because when the movie Cowboys and Aliens came out in 2011, I was super into the idea of two of my favorite things being combined–a western and scifi.  A friend gifted this to me, and it languished on my TBR Pile for years.  I finally picked it up, and while I enjoyed the read and the art, I did not enjoy it as much as the movie, finding it to be too heavy-handed and obvious in its message, as well as a bit too stereotypical in how it handled its Native American characters.

The art is bright and colorful with easy-to-follow panels.  The book opens with a clearly laid out parallel between the colonizing alien species and the white settlers in America.  It’s clever to make a group actively colonizing another group suddenly the victim of colonizers themselves.  However, the direct juxtaposition jumping back and forth between the two visually is too heavy-handed.  Readers know about colonization on our own planet.  Just tell the story of the aliens and let us see the white settler characters slowly realize that they’re doing the same thing to others.  Instead, the readers are shown several times both the parallels between the two and one of the white settlers suddenly dramatically realizing the similarities in the situations.

The Native American characters aren’t horribly handed, however they are treated a bit too much magically for my taste.  Thankfully, how they help fight the aliens mostly comes from ingenuity, not magic.

Both of those things said, the aliens in the story are diverse and interestingly drawn.  Seeing Native Americans and white settlers battle the aliens with a combination of their own gear and stolen alien items was really fun to read.  Just not as much fun or as well-developed of a plot as it was in the movie.

Overall, this is a quick graphic novel that would be a fun read for either hardcore fans of the movie or those interested in the basic idea but who prefer graphic novels to movies.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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