Freedom: My Book of Firsts

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Five years after Jaycee Dugard released A Stolen Life, a memoir about her 18 years of captivity, her second book came out. This one, titled Freedom: My Book of Firsts, talks about her experiences since her recovery, reintegrating herself back into society.

Jaycee documents her experiences of  “firsts,” her first time flying, traveling to a foreign country, being at her sister’s wedding, among others. Her accounts also describe her family life, getting to see her mother again, reconnecting with her younger sister, and continuing to raise her daughters. She also talks about founding the JAYC Foundation, an organization focused on helping families that have become victims of trauma. The foundation also provides educational programs to elementary school children.

One of the more interesting aspects of her accounts is experiencing all these things for the first time at an older age. I realized that we have all traveled, met people, gone to school, learned to drive and done more. We never really give our everyday activities a second though. But I had never really considered about how it would be if I hadn’t learned all of that until I was older. To be completely cut off from society for so many years takes bravery and strength to overcome.

A Stolen Life

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Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped in June 1991 when she was 11 years old. For more than 18 years, no one knew what happened to her, until 2009, when she was discovered living in the backyard of a convicted sex offender. By then, she was almost 30.

Two years after her reappearance, she released A Stolen Life, a memoir about her experience in captivity. At the time of its release, I was 18 and tried reading it, but found the content a little too graphic for me.  I was an avid fan of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, but realized that this account was very real and in no way fictional. Now, more than 5 years later, I decided to give it another go.

The book is written in the format of a journal, with each chapter documenting an experience. After each one, Dugard reflects on the section from her adult perspective. The interesting part about her writing style is the simplicity of it, containing many short sentences. This is due to the fact that she only had a fifth grade education, as she never completed school. However, she wrote it entirely herself with no co-writer, and didn’t hesitate to describe the details of what happened to her on a daily basis. She talks about giving birth to her two daughters as a teenager in captivity and raising them, and trying to maintain a positive attitude.

Although I in no way will ever be able to fully understand what she endured, I was continually awed by Jaycee Dugard’s incredible resilience and willingness to write about the details. As I read the book, on the subway to work, during lunch and on the bus, I found myself drawn into the story by her words and honesty.

I definitely recommend this memoir, as it tells an unbelievable story of someone who spent a lifetime as a captive, but found the strength to carry on. I hope to read the follow up, Freedom: My Book of Firsts, next.

When We Collided

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According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, more than 43 million adults in the United States are affected by mental illness every year.  With mental health being a common issue, it’s all the more important to highlight it through forms of media, including novels.

Emery Lord’s When We Collided takes place in the summertime in Verona Cove, California. Vivian “Vivi” Alexander and her mother have moved to the town for the season. Vivi, an outgoing and somewhat random teenage girl, takes an immediate interest in the town and its residents, landing a job at the local pottery store. It’s there she meets lifelong resident Jonah Daniels, a teenager who’s been struggling to keep his family together after the death of his father and his mother’s subsequent withdrawal from the real world. Vivi charms Jonah’s youngest sister and eventually becomes a friend to his four other siblings. Jonah, in turn, is drawn to Vivi because of her unfazed attitude toward his family life and her fearless demeanor. However, there’s a reason why Vivi is the way she is, a secret she doesn’t want in the open.

Honestly, I found Jonah’s character more realistic than Vivi. Her speech patterns and thought process were difficult to read because they felt all over the place. I understand that it’s the way her character was supposed to be, but it was just not my style. Jonah, on the other hand, was easier to understand, running his father’s restaurant in the shadow of his death and experiencing the incredible amount of stress that goes with providing for a family. I found that I related to Jonah better.

I did find the plot fairly predictable and didn’t really care for the love story aspect, but appreciate Lord incorporating mental illness as a major plot device. Her novel is an example of something that needs to continue to be out there.

 

Wishful Drinking

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In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Star Wars prequels came out and introduced the franchise to an entirely new generation of viewers. Granted, the prequels cannot really compare to the originals, but those movies were the ones my brother first got on video and watched constantly, which meant I saw them constantly too. We obviously watched the originals, and I remember thinking how cool it was to see the difference between the old scale models used in the originals versus the modern computer animation. And of course, I’ve seen the Force Awakens.

In honor of the legendary Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia, I decided to read her memoir Wishful Drinking, based off of a one-woman show she’s presented around the country.

Fisher writes about growing up in the spotlight, being the daughter of 50’s icon Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher. The book is split into multiple chapters that detail certain events in Carrie Fisher’s life, including her experience with drug addiction and alcoholism. She also talks about her parent’s divorces, and the multiple remarriages they both had over the course of several years.

I really liked Fisher’s writing tone, she was honest about a lot of her experiences through a dry sense of humor, even using some suggestive words. I admire her for her openness and willingness to make fun of herself and her family, even so much as to make a web illustrating the interconnections of her family’s divorces and remarriages.

This book is on the short side, only 178 pages, but is a great, quick read for those who appreciate a good sense of humor and memoirs.

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.

 

Flipped

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I first heard about Flipped when I was in college, when one of my classmates mentioned how great the book and movie were. Being the bookworm I am, I decided to read the book when it came up on the DC library’s website.

Written  American author Wendelin Van Draanen, Flipped tells the story of Juli Baker and Bryce Loski, two grade schoolers who live across the street from each other. Although the two are not friends, they regularly interact over the years, with Juli having a big crush on Bryce, although he doesn’t reciprocate it. As the years pass though, Bryce comes to terms about why he cares about Juli and his true feelings toward her. I consider it the classic love story, but through the eyes of grade schoolers.

This novel is written in the style of alternating perspectives of Juli and Bryce. I found both of their accounts of second through eighth grade hilarious, because it reminded me of many events from my childhood, from climbing trees in the neighborhood to hatching baby chicks in the first grade classroom.Van Draanen is very gifted at writing from both a girl and boy perspective, and capturing the aura of what childhood is like.

When it comes to the messages of the story, Van Draanen handled many of them delicately. One example is when Bryce’s father regularly judges appearance of the Baker’s home and personalities, without knowing the true reason behind their financial situation. Bryce later finds out what Juli’s uncle has special needs  and requires extra care. When he tells his father, who reacts by saying “no wonder they’re like that,” his remark horrifies Bryce. I liked how Van Draanen wasn’t afraid of portraying the realistic tense moments between children and their parents.

I definitely recommend this novel to anyone who appreciates love stories and reading about grade school adventures. I’ll for sure be checking out the movie adaptation.

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