Where Am I Now?

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Matilda was one of my favorite movies when I was growing up. I remember asking my babysitter to bring it over every time she came to watch us, until my parents finally got the VHS for me for Christmas.

Where Am I Now? is a nonfiction book written by “that girl from Matilda,” known better as Mara Wilson. Now 29 years old, Mara recalls several memories from her days as a child actor and working with several famous figures, such as Robin Williams, Sally Field and Danny DeVito. The memoir also documents her family life, living in Burbank, California with her three older brothers and younger sister.

I love Mara’s writing style, particularly her references to certain characters and literary works. One such line “Just because Madeline has appendicitis, doesn’t mean that you will too.” (p. 117). I immediately knew what she was talking about, the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans, one of my many childhood obsessions.

On a more serious note, she talks about her struggles with anxiety and OCD. I found this part of the book the most relatable, because I too have experienced the same sort of issues during my life. Her writing in these sections is raw and real, and I loved every word of it. I loved how honest she is in that despite having been an actor, she still experiences the setbacks that we all do: dealing with the death of a loved one, trying to find a job as a college graduate and more.

I also really admire how she made the decision at 13 to stop auditioning and focus on her education, attending high school and eventually graduating from New York University. She now lives in NYC and works at a nonprofit, but still keeps a blog and is active on Twitter. She also performs storytelling occasionally on podcasts and venues. She is a role model of someone who took control of their life and is doing what she wants to do. I look forward to reading more of her work.

 

I Will Always Write Back

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I’ve always loved meeting people from different countries. Growing up in rural New York State, most of the people in my hometown were from the area or the United States. There were a few foreign exchange students during my high school years, but it wasn’t until I spent the semester in England during college that I got a firsthand look at what living in another country was like. How different it was and how much there was that I took for granted. This is the focus of this book review.

I Will Always Write Back is a dual memoir co-written by American Caitlin Alifirenka and Zimbabwe native Martin Ganda, with Liz Welch. Caitlin and Martin met through a pen pal program that began in 1997 when they were both twelve years old. The book covers the six-year period of them growing up in their respective countries, and how their correspondence affects each other’s perspectives of the world and changes their lives for the better.

The story is structured to flip back and forth between Caitlin’s and Martin’s points of view. In the first few chapters, Caitlin talks about her busy school life, while Martin’s education consists of a school where six children share a desk. Caitlin’s rural Pennsylvania upbringing consists of deciding what to wear to school and going out with friends, while Martin only has a few outfits to wear and spends most of his free time earning money for his family.

The format did a great job of showing the contrast between Caitlin’s and Martin’s lifestyles. Caitlin realizes after the first several letters how much she has compared to Martin, and begins to send him and his family care packages. Their relationship only strengthens as they both begin to pursue their future education and experience certain world events, such as September 11.

Caitlin writes about how grateful she is to be able to write Martin about what’s been going on in her life without judgement, as he’s not someone she sees everyday and someone who’s not involved in the everyday drama of middle school and high school life. Martin on the other hand uses Caitlin’s letters about the United States as an escape from his sometimes difficult life. I loved how each of them benefitted from the correspondence in their own ways. I related to the notion of having international friends to write to about what’s been going on lately, though most communications are digital nowadays.

I definitely recommend this novel to anyone who likes to learn about living in different countries or had a pen pal growing up.

 

Wild Swans

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Families are made up of multiple generations, people born in different time periods who lived their lives doing what they did and wondering how they would be remembered. This is the basis of the novel Wild Swans, by American author Jessica Spotswood.

Since her mother left years ago, Ivy Milbourn has been raised by her grandfather Milbourn on Maryland’s eastern shore. Now one year away from college, Ivy begins to feel pressured to live up to the legacy of her prominent family, with her grandfather being a college professor and her great-grandmother’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry. Despite having spent her life taking lessons in various activities, Ivy feels she hasn’t found her one talent. She almost must deal with the “curse” of the Milbourn family, in which all the females suffered a terrible fate.

Her summer is subsequently turned awry when her mother returns with her two young daughters, Ivy’s half sisters. Ivy attempts to get to know her sisters while dealing with her estranged mother and sorting out her feelings for her best guy friend and a handsome college student.

There were a lot of great themes in this book, particularly family ones. Ivy feeling pressured to follow in the footsteps of family members is a very real issue that affects hundreds of people, especially when it comes to choosing what to do after high school. I remember my senior year of high school being filled with everyone trying to choose what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go after graduation.

While the writing was pretty good and the characters were realistic, the story’s structure didn’t balance the themes well enough. The family theme took up a majority of the plot, and the romance bit was a subplot. But I felt like the buildup to the story’s peak was much longer than it should have been. The ending felt rushed and abrupt, as if all of the issues were suddenly solved within a few pages.

I would recommend this book to people who enjoy reading stories about family dynamics.

 

Westminster Abby- Students Across Seven Seas Series

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Study abroad stories have always fascinated me, there’s just something about reading about characters experiencing another culture. Westminster Abby, by Micol Ostow, is the first in the Students Across Seven Seas, or S.A.S.S. Series, a collection of novels about students studying abroad in different countries.

Abby Capshaw is a high school student who is studying in London for the summer session. A native of New York City, she is looking for a change from her overprotective parents and cheating ex-boyfriend. While used to city life and prepared for unfamiliar conditions, Abby is surprised to find out that London offers a lot more than she expected.

One of the unique aspects was how Abby is a high school student as opposed to a college student. I did know some foreign exchange students in high school from different countries, but most of the study abroad programs I was aware of didn’t come until college.

Ostow does a good job of describing London’s many places. Having visited many of the places in London myself, I could easily visualize Abby walking down the street in the East End or riding the London Eye.

However, I felt like the setting description was what made the book worth finishing. I found the actual plot very cliched and predictable, as it involves Abby meeting a guy and then getting torn between two guys, and so on. Abby does take a trip to Dublin, but that part felt incredibly rushed. There were several times where I considered skipping ahead just to find what happened. Also, I felt like it was more of a novella, since it was only about 200 pages.

While this wasn’t the best novel, it’s a good, quick read for anyone that wants to read about London.

 

 

Somebody Everybody Listens To

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Shop Small Saturday, the day after Black Friday, when people are encouraged to shop at their local businesses as a way to support the local economy. Mine this year was spent with my parents in my tiny hometown near Rochester, New York.

One of the local bookstores led me to find Somebody Everybody Listens To, a novel by Suzanne Supplee. I like some country music and stories about people’s adventures after high school, so I decided to get it.

Retta Lee Jones has just graduated from high school and has big plans to become a country singer. With her life savings and her great aunt’s car, she heads to Nashville to search for opportunity. What she doesn’t anticipate is the difficulties she faces- a car accident, being robbed and having close to no money. After awhile though, she begins to make friends and find her way.

Each chapter begins with facts about a famous country singer- their birthdate, their first job, their big break into the music industry and life events. As someone who is obsessed with facts, it was great for Supplee to include a feature like that. It’s also a reminder that these singers are all human, and experienced many setbacks before getting their chance.

I recommend this book for a quick read about following your dreams.