Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book started strong with an interesting mystery at the heart of it — well, actually several mysteries that branched from a single incident.
I enjoyed these characters, but the second half fell flat to me as the mysteries started getting answered. The revelation of Alphie’s “big secret”, especially, didn’t sit right with me — it was trope-y and felt like it was there for shock value — and from the minute her secret was revealed, the book began relying heavily on exposition, as though to say, “You see, this is how it happened, and I would’ve told you earlier, but I couldn’t, because story structure.” It made for unsatisfying resolutions. Alphie and Belle’s story is basically left unresolved except for an epilogue infodump which has to work overtime to make up for the pacing/secrecy issues in their earlier chapters.
Odile and Sylvan’s story felt like they had the best pace and a kind of a closure by the end. Still, there were elements that felt like they didn’t get enough buildup to entirely earn the ending. That said, I still like their endings, for its emotional resolution qualities.
Overall, an enjoyable book, but it doesn’t really stand out from the gazillions of good literary fiction books out there.
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Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down by Anne Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Every once in a while, I come across a book that hits the perfect note between “I have something to say” and “I have a story to tell.” This was one of those books. The inescapable thought I had while reading was that this school shooting is not unique. This shooter is not unique. In America, there’s a new incident every week. If we’re lucky enough not to be touched directly by these events, we go numb after a while out of self-preservation. This book rips the Novacaine from our hands and asks us to confront the reality of the lives lost, because these characters and their experiences are not abstract. Everything in here is brutally real, even the more supernatural elements.
This book is not easily categorizable by any means, with genre or otherwise. In speaking with the author, the word that came up was “intangibility,” and that sounds right. The book is concerned the power of intangible emotions, namely intense grief, and the horrific effects of bottling up such emotions, writ large. Within the first few pages, it becomes clear that the memory of the shooting never leaves these characters, and it’s confirmed again in the beautiful final chapters, where our narrators say they’ve tried to forget and move on, move away, and haven’t entirely succeeded. The first-person plural voice was especially striking. It felt like the voice of a community as a whole, struggling to heal in the midst of further tragedies.
Though I’ve had days to gather my thoughts, I’m still a little at a loss for how to articulate it. It was beautiful and resonant and exactly the book I believe everyone should read. Yes, it’s hard and intense and I definitely cried several times, but it also served to wake me up and remind me that mass violence is not a problem for tomorrow, but today.
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