Book Review: “Wrecked” (****/5)

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I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of “Wrecked” by Jeff Goins. It took me far too long to get around to reading it, but I’m glad that I did. At its heart, “Wrecked” is a book about being broken in order to grow as an individual and a member of society. Being “wrecked” in the sense that this book is talking about means seeing the sadness and pain within others and allowing it to touch us, to move us, and eventually to change us. Although most of the stories were about missions, one does not need to travel somewhere exotic and poor to witness and work against pain. Indeed, one can help people that live right next door.

 

People who allow their hearts to be broken for the brokenness in the world have something that most of us don’t. Compassion. Selflessness. Freedom.

 

As humans, we have conflicting goals. We want our lives to mean something, to leave a legacy and make others proud of us. But we also want to “have it all”, to live a comfortable life and feel safe. Unfortunately, these two concepts are sometimes mutually exclusive. This is why we get “wrecked”. Sometimes something (subconscious goals, God, fate, or what-have-you) drags us out of our happy life and shows us how painful life really can be. The goodness comes when we realize that helping others can help us too, and the change can make us stronger.

 

If you’ve ever traveled to another country, especially in the developing world, you may have noticed that you don’t see many moody teenagers. Young adults in the rest of the world aren’t like they are in America. Other cultures make a clear delineation between childhood and adulthood; there are rites of passages and initiation ceremonies to mark these transitions. People expect and are willing to expose young people to hardship and pain, because it helps them grow.

 

In the Western world where I live, there are few of these rites of passage. There are ceremonies, yes, but (at least in my experience) none of them involve true pain. We are so busy pushing our young through more and more levels of education that we forget to let them live. And then, strangely, we are surprised when they go into the workforce and find that it’s not as easy as they expected. Mentorship programs are rare, and even when a young adult is lucky enough to find a mentor, who has the time to spend helping another learn? I think that this is exactly what the end goal of being “wrecked” is all about: if you are not able to directly work to end suffering, you can empower others to do so.

 

Bodybuilders know that, in order to build muscle, we must first break the tissue down. This is painful and often is where we want to quit. Because it hurts! But the torn muscle tissue regenerates to be stronger. The same can be said for life: we can’t grow without pain. Some of the biggest changes in life (teething, adolescence, breaking a bone, or giving birth) are accompanied by substantial pain. Finding your life’s purpose can be just as difficult, and may require sacrifice, discomfort, or even danger.

 

Jeff told a story about his first settled job, where he quickly took on more and more responsibilities that he felt he wasn’t qualified for. He thought that he wasn’t good enough, in spite of the faith his boss had in him. Without giving away any details, I will say that I have felt like this too. I too have wondered why so many people believed in me, when I clearly lack the skills that I need. But, with so many things, that situation has passed. I have yet to discover if the pain has made me stronger yet, but I know that it has left me with a renewed sense of purpose. Maybe that was what I needed to learn from this recent experience.

If you feel you’ve been given more than you can possibly handle, take heart. This is the point where you learn to grow into who you’re meant to be. It’s when you’re in over your head that you start taking your work seriously, when you finally grow.

Book Review: “Water for Elephants” (****/5)

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I received Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen as a gift earlier in the year.  Unfortunately, my life being what it is, it sat for a while before I finally picked it up.  I thought it would make a nice light camping read and, being a published NaNoWriMo novel, might inspire me to work extra hard on my own writing.

 

Unfortunately, it had rather the opposite effect.  By which I mean that I spent the entirety of the first day camping reading it.  I finished it quickly and read it again before the weekend was out.

 

At it’s heart, Water for Elephants is a love story.  There are darker undertones, though, of desperation, hatred, abuse, and greed.  It is a remembrance of things past, where perhaps the brighter spots are a little brighter and the darker spots a little darker than they might truly have been.  It is a truly visual story that leaves a mark on the reader: superficial at first, but eventually a deeper statement of love and compassion.

 

The story starts with a death – a murder.  The victim: a character that we feel no sympathy for and quickly learn to hate.  The perpetrator?  Well, that’s left a little bit ambiguous.  The mystery of the opening is soon pushed by the wayside as we live the memories of Jacob Janowski, a ninety-three year old circus veterinarian.  Alone and with nothing, young Jacob gives up his dream and inadvertently runs away with the circus.  There, he falls in love with the equestrian star, Marlena, a love that he must hide from her cruel husband.  But things grow even more complicated when the elephant Rosie joins the menagerie and Jacob finds himself trying to protect his two loves from the cruel force that seems intent on dooming them both.

 

The setting of the novel is vibrant and alive – it’s clear Gruen did her research.  It was that setting that really kept me engaged: I’ve heard that setting should be treated as a character, and this one definitely had a life of its own.  From the Depression-damaged towns to the sleazy sideshow and “cooch tent” to the glamours of the performer cars and a speakeasy, I truly felt present in the moment.

 

The interactions between the characters were equally believable, if occasionally a little flat and predictable.  The overall mystery of the murder and its fallout, as well as the side plots involving the injured Camel, older Jacob’s desire to visit the local circus, and the mystery that is Walter the clown kept me turning pages well into the time I should have been writing myself.

 

Water for Elephants is a thoughtful book, that I was able to read twice in quick succession and still glean more from it the second time.  I think it might be one of those rare books that only improves on re-visiting, although I will have to read it again to be sure.  I look forward to it.

Book Review: “The Hunger Games” (*****/5)

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I haven’t been unable to put a book down for a while.  This might seem shocking to many of you, but I’ve always been a fast reader and often finish books in one or two sittings (the most notable of which being nearly every Harry Potter book).  Lately, though, I’ve read a little of a book and put it down, only to pick it up a week or a month later.  Even the infamous Game of Thrones that kept my boyfriend up for many a late night didn’t hold my attention (I still have yet to finish it).

 

I could NOT put The Hunger Games down.

 

It wasn’t just that the protagonist was a wonderfully written young woman with courage that I can only dream of.  It wasn’t that the society of Panem was wonderfully weird and an interesting statement on society.  It wasn’t the fighting to the death and it wasn’t the love story.

 

It was everything.

 

I can certainly see why The Hunger Games is incredibly popular right now.  To start with, Katniss is an amazing protagonist with courage that few people have.  She sacrifices herself (pretty much literally) to save her younger sister without really thinking of the implications.  She handles most of the situations she’s faced with in the Capitol with courage and grace.  And she overcomes so very much in the Games themselves.

 

Katniss is faced with a problem that many young adult readers are not, although I think most readers can relate to facing strange situations that seem familiar but are fraught with politics and popularity contests and twists.  When I put it that way, it sounds much like junior high/high school, doesn’t it?  And then, just to make a bad situation worse: there’s the romance.  Does she love Gale?  Does she love Peeta?  Katniss doesn’t seem to know what she really wants and who she really cares for.

 

I also completely enjoyed the setting of Panem.  It was weird and wonderful and just a little bit off-putting.  I could see the North America that we know now turning out that way under the right circumstances.  I also particularly liked how the splendor of the Capitol was contrasted so sharply with the conditions in District Twelve.  In these times of economic uncertainty, I think it’s something that a lot of us can relate to.

 

The Hunger Games definitely sucked me in with its relevance to the world today and it’s subtle commentary on society.  But it was the action that kept me going, even though I had seen the movie and knew how it would end.  I hung on to every Tribute’s death and waited anxiously with Katniss for the next battle, the next fight for her life.  And when the end finally came, it was the opposite of what I would have expected.

 

I will definitely be buying and reading the next two books in the series, as I simply must know what happens in Panem next.  And I think that there are many things Suzanne Collins does that I will have to keep in mind for my own writing.

 

All in all, a great book that made an excellent movie.  I hunger for more.