Review: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Nine interlinked short tales chronicling ruined relationships, cheating, death, family, and more. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own.

“And that’s when I know it’s over. As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.”

This being my first read by Junot Diaz, I was in for a pleasant surprise regarding the writing and the tempo of each tale. The author specializes in making his short stories fly by. However, I had a hard time reading most of these tales of cheating and feeling literally zero remorse for it… And even going so far as to say that “it was just a mistake.” I have only one thing in mind for people that use that heinous excuse:

And I just wish the women in this collection could’ve listened to Dua Lipa’s New Rules:

Side note on the above song: I recently discovered this feminist, girl-power bop, and I’m completely digging it. It’s been on repeat for days now. Not only is the aesthetic on point in the music video (those color coordinations!!!), but Dua Lipa’s singing voice is one not to be trifled with.

Circling back to the actual story collection: While the first handful of stories were capturing and different enough to keep me interested, once the narrator became the same one for each coming tale I grew quite over it. Following Yunior from a teen to adulthood didn’t end up working in my favour, since his character wasn’t that intriguing to see developed over the course of a number of stories. And neither his family nor his romantic partners kept me intrigued enough, so I was disappointed with the second half of this collection.

This Is How You Lose Her is, however, a striking introduction to the author’s immaculately curated writing style. I’m not sure, however, if I’ll be eager to check out Junot Diaz’s other books in the near future. Mainly because the short stories left me extremely underwhelmed with the characters as a whole. So only time will tell on this one.

2.5/5 stars 

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Review: Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

“The only past you have a right to know about is your own.”

I was positutely ecstatic when I found out that Gabrielle Zevin was releasing a brand new fiction novel after The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, which had quickly become a favorite of mine earlier this year. And similar to the aforementioned, Young Jane Young had me enamored from the first page, which I’ve come to realize is the author’s specialty. Even though the setting is so different from her previous work, the characterizations feel so familiar. Zevin has a special knack for breathing life into her characters, making them flawed yet still likeable as hell.

“Once upon a time, I was easily touched and easily flapped.”
“What happened?” she said.
“I grew up,” I said.

Now I know that I can always count on the author for getting me swept up into her works from page one. It took absolutely zero effort for me to get familiarized within the pages of this book. It felt truly effortless, in particular, because of the combination of the many Jewish aspects and Yiddish phrases (farkakte, oy vey iz mir, alte cocker) that won over my heart in a beat.

Thanks to my incredible excitement for a new Zevin novel, I hadn’t even read the blurb or synopsis before starting, so I was in for a treat because everything that came at me I got to experience through fresh eyes. I’m also thankful because I probably wouldn’t have read this gem had I known that Young Jane Young‘s heroine is Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it.

“They didn’t put a scarlet letter on her chest, but they didn’t need to. That’s what the Internet is for.”

Separated into five different parts with a different female narrator for each one, the aforementioned plot point is honestly not even a third of what this novel is about. We’re introduced to so many great, flawed, and achingly real female characters that support one another, in addition to many iconic feminist moments and sayings and t-shirts (“Women rights are human rights” and “Ask me about my feminist agenda”) in here. Speaking of which, the pure privilege of receiving the many sage feminist advice from Mrs. Morgan was worth it all. (Her side note to Ruby on the meaning behind ‘douchebag’ opened up my eyes.)

And further drove the point home by making this a female driven story. I love it more than I can put into words that the narrators were Jewish women, related to each other one way or another. Nothing is quite like what it seems, and I cherish the author for still managing to make each woman layered and just so fucking real. That’s all I could’ve asked for, really.

An added bonus: One of my favorites was Ruby Young, the most fully realized character, who’s only thirteen at the end of the book but trustworthy, neurotic, and strong for her age, to borrow her mother’s phrasing. When asked how she came to be so wise, her answer gives it all away:  “Books,” I said. “And I spend a lot of time with my mom.” Showing healthy children/parent relationships is the key to my heart.

It seems a difficult feat but I ended up liking each narrator and each generation more and more, thanks to Gabrielle Zevin’s effortless yet intricate writing style and characterization. The small details are what matter here. Like this next little moment that managed to capture such a specific feeling that it nearly made my head spin:

“I don’t know why I didn’t say no. In my defense, I was confused. I think it’s like when you’re on a cell phone call with someone and the reception goes bad and you continue to pretend as if you can hear for a bit, hoping that the cell phone reception will work itself out before the person catches on that you haven’t been hearing her for five minutes. Why don’t you immediately say, I can’t hear you? Why does it feel shameful.

And of course there were the many laugh out loud moments that I’ve grown accustomed to as the author’s signature style: “He was twenty-seven, and his handshake was too firm – what are you trying to prove, bro?” And using the most iconic of phrases: “You’re worse than a bra strap.”

This refreshing, short, and concise read with plenty of heart and more than a little humor has made a definite new fan out of me. I can’t wait for Gabrielle Zevin’s future works.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: August 22nd, 2017

5/5 stars

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Review: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

“A place is not really a place without a bookstore.”

tumblr_omegnlbzpf1vyjupno10_400The beginning of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry was the most fun I had reading a fiction book since the start of this year. What compelled me to give it a go was seeing this next quote shared online:

“People tell boring lies about politics, God, and love. You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?”

And I’m forevermore grateful because what followed was something I couldn’t have possibly foreseen: I laughed, teared up, cackled, and became super invested in the lives of this incredible cast of characters, both supporting and leading, from Alice Island. The blurb does an excellent job of capturing their defining moments:

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island—from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, I was drawn to the beginning of this book a lot thanks to the numerous laugh-out-loud moments when the main character kept breaking the fourth wall left and right.

“My wife and I,” A.J. replied without thinking. “Oh Christ, I just did that stupid thing where the character forgets that the spouse has died and he accidentally uses ‘we.’ That’s such a cliché. Officer”—he paused to read the cop’s badge—“Lambiase, you and I are characters in a bad novel. Do you know that? How the heck did we end up here? You’re probably thinking to yourself, Poor bastard, and tonight you’ll hug your kids extra tight because that’s what characters in these kinds of novels do. You know the kind of book I’m talking about, right? The kind of hotshot literary fiction that, like, follows some unimportant supporting character for a bit so it looks all Faulkneresque and expansive. Look how the author cares for the little people! The common man! How broad-minded he or she must be! Even your name. Officer Lambiase is the perfect name for a clichéd Massachusetts cop. Are you racist, Lambiase? Because your kind of character ought to be racist.”

This made me throw my head back with laughter. INCREDIBLE.

I went into this book so hesitant because I thought it would read exactly like what the author was making fun of in the above paragraph… But needless to say, I was more than mislead. The last time I felt this same amount of surprise was when I finally caved in to watch the film Deadpool (which is the last thing I thought I’d be comparing this book with), and was utterly blown away with its crass and precise humor.

And the same type of wit is being used by our main character, the snarky and grumpy A. J. Fikry.

Aside from appreciating the more comical moments, I also enjoyed Gabrielle Zevin’s swift novel for making each chapter feel like a short story. Similar to how the Netflix tv series, Master of None uses each episode to explore a different theme (which I’ll talk about extensively in my May Wrap Up, coming in the next couple of days on my blog), this book dived into the notions of fatherhood, grief, love, friendship, book people and lovers, and so much more.

Plus, A. J. Fikry’s short reviews to his “dear little nerds” interspersed at the start of a new chapter made reading the book that more enjoyable. A. J. had always something noteworthy written down that would make me think for days to come.

“My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart.”

This standout of a novel was full of eclectic, charming, mismatched characters with the addition of memorable quotes to ponder (I nearly underlined every other line), and twists and turns at each corner, promising to really do a number on your mind. But at the heart of it all, there’s a quiet allure to this world Zevin created that held me glued to the pages, completely rapt, till I reached that dreaded last page. And to conclude, reading about these lovely nerds, who perfectly get my love for reading, was a comfort for my soul. I feel like this next quote sums up my chance encounter with this read pretty well: “the necessity of encountering stories at precisely the right time in our lives.” I’m beyond grateful that I had the joy to discover The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry.

5/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!