Monday, 13 March 2017

You Are Wanted. Big, Small, Tall, Short, Pretty, Plain, Friendly, Shy. Don't Let Anyone Tell You Otherwise, Not Even Yourself.

Hello! Long time no see, again!
I think its safe to say that I haven't been the most consistent blog writer in the world but I'm really going to try to write more from now on.



So today I finished "Holding Up the Universe" by Jennifer Niven (and started it actually- 400 pages all in one day is pretty good for me) and so I thought I might write a bit of a review for anyone who may be interested.
THIS REVEIW WILL BE SPOILER FREE UNTIL THE FINAL PARAGRAPH, IF YOU PREFER NOT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END PLEASE STOP READING WHEN APPROPRIATE.

Firstly, the plot. The story takes place in Indiana, USA and revolves around two main characters: Libby, formerly known as "America's Fattest Teen", and Jack, a boy with a neurological disorder called Prosopagnosia which means that he cannot identify people by their faces. After an incident that meant Libby had to be lifted out of her house by crane due to her size, she has lost a lot of weight and is physically able to return to high school where she is still known as "the fat girl" in one way or another. Jack, on the other hand, is suffering from some problems at home and refuses to tell anyone about his disorder and so, as a cover-up, becomes known as "the bully". The story follows these two characters and portrays the developments in their relationship that lead to them seeing each other for who they really are as people and not just their labels.

This book is a young adults fiction and so its fair to say that the writing style is fairly simplistic. For me it was definitely an easy and relaxed read but not to the extent that I felt the story was too young for me. As much as I love YA fiction my one gripe is when authors make too many obvious references to modern technology and clothing brands in order to "appeal to the younger generation" and so I'm really glad that there weren't too many of them in this book. The story is told through the altering perspectives of Jack and Libby which I think gave the book a more varied perspective on the characters and their experiences of high school as Jack and Libby are extremely different characters. Overall I really enjoyed the writing although one thing I didn't like as much was that I jumped around a bit in terms of flashbacks and cutting forward to the next relevant scene. For me it was a bit hard to keep track of and unnecessary as I think the story would have worked just as well in chronological order. The only other thing I found was that the chapters were extremely short and didn't provide much of a stopping place so that I could put the book down for a while although I suppose this could be a good thing and it says a lot about the writing style which is quite fast-paced.

In terms of the characters, generally, I didn't really relate on a personal level with either Libby or Jack as both of them are a lot more outspoken than I am, but I could definitely appreciate both. I really liked how the book focused on their lives outside of each other too as both of them had problems and successes and aspirations of their own which I think really added to the realism as relatability of the characters. Also I really liked looking at their inner conflicts which was a huge perk of the dual narration. Jack and Libby had perspectives on themselves and their lives and the people around them that were almost polar opposite in someways but incredibly similar in others which, for me creates chemistry and a natural bond between the two which, I think, was appropriately developed throughout the story.

In terms of the other characters Bailey and Jayvee were a little bit too good to be true, in my opinion, and although I liked them both as characters I don't think that they added anything tot he plot. I really liked Jack's friend Dave Kaminski as I feel like my opinion of him really changed as the story went on and, for me, there was a lot of depth to his character. I thought that Jack's ex girlfriend Caroline had the potential to be a really interesting character and give the reader some insight into the mind of "the popular girl" but, for me, she fell a bit flat. I also really liked Jack's youngest brother Dusty as I felt that, for a child, he was naturally wise and therefore was able to teach Jack something about himself more effectively than an adult could, lessons which also transpire to the reader as I feel like everyone questions their own morality at some point and wanders if they are actually a good person and therefore everyone can relate, even a little bit, and everyone can take something away from his lessons.

WARNING, THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF THE FINAL PARAGRAPH WHERE I WILL BE DISCUSSING THE ENDING. I YOU DONT WANT TO READ ANY SPOILERS PLEASE CLICK OFF HERE.

Okay so finally, the ending. I was half expecting one of  them to die towards then end of this book after having read All The Bright Places (this book is a thousand percent better than Niven's previous novel in my opinion) so I'm really glad that didn't happen. I think the fact that while drunk and probably high, Jack suddenly realises that he can remember Libby's face and rushes to tell her then next morning is a bit optimistic to say the least and probably not at all realistic. However, after thinking about it for a while I can get past this as I think it an be read metaphorically. To Jack and pretty much everyone else at their high school, Libby's identifier has always been her weight and her physical appearance in that respect and so, for me, Jack's memory of her face isn't caused by the way it looks, it is a reflection of the way he sees her as a result of her personality. For me, this enforces the fact that what you look like does not dictate who you are as a person and that the people who really love you will be able to look past any physically imperfections and see you for who you are which I think is the main message behind the whole story: that you get to decide how people see you, regardless of how you look. I really appreciated this message and think that part of the reason I enjoyed the book so much was not only the dynamic between Jack and Libby (which was the perfect combination of soppy, funny and interesting in my opinion) but the message that comes at a time in my life when I need to hear it. I also think that there is room for a sequel to this book although I doubt it will ever be written. Personally, I'd like to go a bit deeper into the world of Libby and Jack. I'd like to see how Libby learns to deal with her her anxiety and addresses her remaining weight issues and insecurities and also how prosopagnosia affects Jack in situations outside of school and how he learns to deal with it. I would also really like to see developments in their relationship and how they overcome problems such as their shared insecurities as it progresses.

So those are my thoughts on Jennifer Niven's newest book. Let me know what you thought of it if you have already read it and please leave some suggestions and reccomedations for what to read next if you have any.

Until next time,
Holly Olivia.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

2017

It's a new year. One of my favourite things about the arrival of a brand new year is that it makes me appreciate life more. I think of all of the things that I am going to do this year and all the places that I am going to see and it just makes me excited for life in general. This morning I was thinking of this time last year and how far I've come. This time last year I was just on the cusp of making some college friends. I was just about able to talk to someone without being the most socially awkward person you have ever met in your life and I was really excited for what the new year was going to bring. I was determined to make it the most productive and enjoyable one I could. I wanted to things that I had never done before, I wanted to achieve something that I could be proud of and I wanted to make friends. More than you could possibly imagine, I wanted to make friends.
I realise that I am rambling here but stay with me.
I think that new years resolutions are great as they make me want to be better and achieve more, however, I also think that it's important to mention that they are not everything. Just because you make a decision that you want to do something doesn't mean it has to be done in the space of a year and if takes longer than a year, it doesn't mean that you have failed in some way.
This time last year, I had three new years resolutions for 2016. To be on a "clean eating" diet and exercise regularly. To blog more. To overcome my shyness and make some friends.
I've had issues with food ever since I can remember and so shifting from a relatively unhealthy diet filled with processed foods to eating completely clean was a challenge and  half and I just couldn't manage it. It important to mention here that this is not because I have a lack of willpower or motivation. It's incredibly hard to explain, I dont really understand it myself, and I think its a topic for another day so for now lets just say that I would still like to have a "clean eating" diet, I've just changed my expectations and I'm going about it in a different way.
In terms of blogging its true that I started my blog this year and I am proud of that however I can't say that I blog often or consistently. That's something that I would like to change this year.
Like the food, my shyness and ability to make friends is still an ongoing issue. I did manage to make friends with the people I mentioned earlier but we're not as close now. We're not on bad terms at all we just grew apart and didn't see much of each other over the summer so we're still friendly but not best friends. Aside from this success, there are some people that I just can't talk to. It sounds silly but I feel like sometimes, when I really want to be someones friend or when I really want them to like me, I put so much pressure on myself to make friends with them that I just can't. I feel like I need to breathe a bit and stop being awkward but its a lot harder than it sounds when you're in the moment and running out of things to say to keep a conversation going. If anyone is the same or has any tips for this please let me know.

Enough about last year, lets look at this year. As always I have three resolutions:
1. To be healthier in terms of diet, regular exercise and drinking plenty of water
2. To really concentrate on my college work and prioritise my time in terms of what will get me into university and what I am just doing as an extra course.
3. To be more productive in my free time and spend less time on my phone.

I'm really excited to see what 2017 has to offer and I hope that anyone reading this has the best year possible. How was 2016 for you? Have you got any new years resolutions?

Until next time,
Holly Olivia.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

One Could Not Count the Moons that Shimmer on her Roofs, Or the Thousand Splendid Suns that Hide Behind her Walls...



Okay, so the first book that I want to talk about that I have read recently is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I am currently writing about this book as a part of my english coursework this year but I have a theme to discuss and a plan to follow and because of this I haven’t been able to share all of my thoughts and so I thought I might write a review here.

For those of you who haven’t read it, the book is about two women and their lives growing up in modern day Afghanistan. The news has always been closely followed in my family and so growing up I knew that there was many wars going on in Afghanistan and that many people died because of them but I never really took the time to learn about it in detail. The first character that the book follows is Mariam. Mariam is an illegitimate child meaning that she was born out of wedlock and so she isn’t entitled to many of the things that she otherwise would have been. Needless to say there is a sense of unfairness that surrounds Mariam’s life and develops as she gets older. The other main character is Laila. Laila is quite a bit younger than Mariam and grows up in completely different circumstances. Her parents are very modern and value her education. They also don’t condemn her for being a girl, which was common at the time. The book discusses how these two lives cross and the reality of life for women in Afghanistan, showing how they are treated by a male dominated society and how they must live in order to survive. It also discusses in depth the reality of war and what exactly was happening at the time which is also very poignant.

I really love the dual narration in this book and the way that the two heroines are contrasted and compared to each other. Hosseini does an amazing job at portraying life in Afghanistan as it really is which is probably helped by the fact that he is a Afghan-American writer and was there to experience some of the war first hand. Reading A Thousand Splendid Suns is an often harrowing and also uplifting experience as it focuses on the hope that these women hold on to despite their circumstances and how they are able to support each other emotionally. I really felt like it taught me something, which is a quality I personally look for in a good book, and so I would recommend that everyone reads it.

***WARNING, WHAT FOLLOWS IS A FULL REVEIW ON MY THOUGHTS OF THE BOOK WHICH INCLUDE MANY SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVENT READ THE BOOK YET OR JUST DONT WANT TO HEAR ANY SPOILERS I WOULD RECOMMEND THAT YOU STOP READING HERE***

So, as for the story its self, I really liked it. I liked the way that Hosseini talked about Mariam first and then Laila before going into the dual narration as I feel that this establishes their characters more clearly. Mariam and Laila are two very different people in two very different circumstances before they find themselves married to Rasheed and even though they are so different there are parallels in their lives such as the loss of their parents and their detachment from their siblings, leaving them isolated. I liked the fact that their lives were so different to begin with as it shows that no one was safe at the time. Just because you had a good beginning doesn't mean you have a good ending in life and just because you have a bad beginning doesn't mean that your life is completely hopeless and you will be stuck like that forever. I feel like this is true for everyone, regardless of if we are living in Aghanistan or not and so everyone has something that they can take from this book, even if it’s just a sense of humility.

I also like the way that Hosseini was very clear about what was happening in terms of the war, the ways in which society was effected and what that meant for different kinds of people. For me, his experiences and education on the subjects came through throughout the novel and so I felt like he was able to educate me more effectively as, as stated previously, I knew about the war prior to this book but I didn't have exact knowledge on what was going on.

Surprisingly I also was very accepting of the ending of this book. Don’t get me wrong, I didn't particularly like the fact that Mariam died and of course I wanted her life to improve but I felt like her death was somehow optimistic. Mariam had a poor beginning and suffered a tragic end and Laila had a positive beginning and was given her life back, however its clear that Laila could not have done this on her own. Before Rasheed and Laila marry it’s clear that Mariam had a very pessimistic idea that life was to be endured and that she could only escape its monotony in death. For me, Laila showed Mariam hope and love and loyalty and all the things that she had missed out on in her life so far and I think that Mariam learnt a lot form Laila in the same way that Laila relied on Mariam to keep in in her place and out of trouble. I feel that Mariam choosing to let Laila escape with Tariq was her way of giving the world some hope of breeding a relationship between two people who really loved and respected each other and in doing that she sacrificed herself. I feel like Mariam’s choice in that matter is what really freed her, more so than killing Rasheed. She was able to take her life into her own hands and choose to let Laila and Tariq go in search of what she had always wanted, love and acceptance.

As a character, I thought that Mariam was symbolic of many women that were born in her time. There must have been many illegitimate children in Afghanistan in reality just like there are many children born out of wedlock in many parts of the world nowadays but they aren’t given a voice. Throughout the novel Mariam was constantly breaking my heart. The fact that she had never experienced real love and acceptance and the sense of belonging and relief that she found in Laila and her children was both beautiful and awful.

I also had a lot of admiration for Laila. I saw a lot of myself in her in the sense that she had no clue what she was getting herself into when she married Rasheed and when he started shouting at her and abusing her like he did Mariam she had no idea how to react. She was a modern young woman stuck in an oppressive society of the past. I really liked the fact that she was a lot more demanding of Rasheed and less compliant and obedient than Mariam ever was as it showed her strength of character and modernity and at the same time her cluelessness. I think that Mariam and Laila definitely balanced each other out well and the dynamic between them was perfect.

One character that I was never sure about was Nana, Mariam’s mother. One minute I felt that she was manipulative and the next she was just hurt and protective of her daughter. Its clear that Nana felt a sense of punishment by being made to live in the kolba, and rightfully so as the mothers of Jalil’s other children lived in his house with him. At times it seems like Nana is trying to punish Jalil in return by poisoning Mariam against him or punishing Mariam by keeping her there and not letting her go to school, therefore secluding her; but also it seemed that she felt she knew Jalil better than Mariam did as she knew both the kind concerned Jalil and the Jalil that threw her out after he had gotten her pregnant. Hosseini also portrays Nana as having epilepsy, a disease which causes her to have fits. Its it clear that, like Mariam’s illegitimacy, this has prevented her from having a good life and so arguably she would rather seclude her daughter from the world than have her suffer similar disappointment and rejection.

Another character that I had mixed feelings about was Jalil. Like Mariam, I initially warmed to Jalil more than I did to Nana as he treated her like I assume he treated all his daughters, with love and respect. It was only after he left Mariam waiting outside for him and, when her mother died, almost immediately married her off to a stranger that I decided that I hated him. I thought that he was manipulative and evil and was the cause of the downfall in Mariam’s life as even though she didn't live in luxury with Nana at least she had someone who loved her whereas now, after Jalil, everything that she had ever known was taken away from her and she would have to build her life all over again. A life that deteriorated quite quickly after her first miscarriage. It was only the letter that somewhat redeemed Jalil in my eyes. Overall I felt that Jalil was not necessarily a bad person, just someone who was weak and a victim of circumstance. He did love Mariam, but he wasn't allowed to. He wanted her to live with him and his other children, but his wives didn't want her there. He wanted to do what was best for her, but how was he to know that she was going to miscarry and Rasheed was going to abuse her? He didn't have the the strength to be the person that he wanted to be for Mariam because it was socially unacceptable and he accepted that.

As for Mullah Faizullah, I don’t have a lot to say about him. I think that he definitely acted as a father figure to Mariam when Jalil wasn't around and he was the one who showed her hope as a child, that she could have achieved anything. She could have gone to school, she could have done well in life, she could have been a good muslim but this clearly wasn't mean t to be for Mariam and when she married and her childhood was over so was her relationship with Mullah Faizullah and her hope to be an independent, modern woman.

Mami and Babi, Laila’s parents, were possibly the opposite to Nana and Jalil. Firstly, they were very modern Afghan muslims. They were not disappointed or at least did not show any disappointment, at Laila’s gender and Babi encouraged her to stay in school and improve her education. In terms of society at the time, gender roles were reversed in Mami and Babi and Mami was the one that was self absorbed and often abusive towards her husband. Mami was consumed with the war and the death of her two others sons who she made clear she valued more than she did Laila whereas Babi played the mother role and looked after Laila on a daily basis. When Hosseini has written about the lack of a genuine loving and accepting relationship that Jalil and Mariam had I think it was important that he conveyed the closeness between Laila and her father, even going as far as to imply that Babi relies on Laila for emotional support after the death of his sons and during the slow break down of his relationship with Mami. This taught me a lot about society at the time, that it is not just black and white and there were many gender role reversals although these are not talked about regularly as they defied the social expectations of a couple that we hold on to, even in modern Britain today.

Tariq. Potentially my favourite character in the whole novel. Tariq and Laila’s relationship was so modern and honest it could have happened anywhere in the world. I feel like Tariq and Laila brought the sense of modernity to the novel and set the time period making the old fashioned sounding parts of arranged marriage and the condemning of women even more shocking. I do love a good love story and Tariq and Laila really did it for me. I also was able to appreciate the fact that they were separated and reunited at the end of the book having been affected by war. For me this gave just enough of the sense that love can last through war and separation without the unrealistic expectation that these people could just forget what happened to them and continue living normal lives. 

Finally, Rasheed. I feel like I should really hate Rasheed because he was the classic example of a masculine bully. He abused both of his wives on multiple occasions, lied to Laila in order to get her to marry him, neglected and eventually threw out his daughter because he couldn't afford to keep her; and yet I don’t feel like I can blame him. Rasheed is a lot older than both Mariam and Laila and grew up in a time where wife beating and using brute force to get what you want was considered acceptable. He too had faced loss in the form of his wife and son who had died before he married Mariam, all the miscarriages he also went through, his disappointment at having a girl for a first child with Laila. In his eyes beating his wives and terrorising his children was him being a powerful man and a good husband and father.

So now on to some of my favourite parts in the book. One line that really stuck with me was when Nana said at the end of chapter 1: “Learn this now and learn it well my daughter. Like a compass needle that points north, a mans accusing finger will always find a woman. You remember that, Mariam.” I think that this line pretty much shapes the rest of the novel; it's a summary of how Mariam and Laila will get treated. It stuck with me because it still applies today. If a woman is sexualised or objectified in any aspect of modern life she is often blamed, its quite funny how a modern reader can look down on the themes and ways of life that are portrayed in this book and think, like I did, how much we have moved on in society when in reality, in some ways, we haven’t moved very far at all.

Another part that I really liked was the letter that Jalil wrote for Mariam. I can’t read it without crying (I have tried many times), it is honestly one of the most heartbreaking things that I have ever had to read. I cant even explain why it makes me cry so much, I can just feel Jalil’s guilt and regret and his vain hope that he can ask Mariam to forgive him and be the person that he so badly wanted to be just once before he died. I feel so much of his pain in that letter and also so much of what Mariam endured in her life as a result of it. The whole thing is just perfectly written and as much as I hate crying over it, its one of the most genuine and honest things that I have ever read. So genuine and honest that even though its not addressed to me, I still feel the pain attached to it.

In terms of Laila and Tariq’s relationship, I particularly liked chapter 25 when Tariq is about to leave with his parents and asks Laila to marry him. They sleep together and then Laila chooses to leave him go and stay with her family as she doesn't want to upset her father. Everything about this chapter just defies every social structure possible. It leaves me with hope that in amongst a place that feels very detached from me there are people living there that have modern values and a modern ideas about life and society but they are stuck within an old fashioned place that condemns them. It allows me to put myself in their place.

If I had anything to say in slight criticism of this book it might be that the first two parts that discuss Mariam and Laila’s background were, for me personally, a little bit too drawn out. I liked that Hosseini wrote about their childhood first before the two met properly but I felt like, particularly with Mariam, this could have been done a lot quicker in my opinion as the following parts are what interested me personally.

So thats it for my review. All in all, I really loved the story and it taught me a lot about the reality of life in Afghanistan and how the people, particularly the women, just had to endure and adapt to life as best they could regardless of what was going on around them. I really hope that someone enjoys reading this review just as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you have read A Thousand Splendid Suns, what do you think of it and who was your favourite character? If you haven’t what was the last book you read and would you recommend it? I would love to know.

Bye for now!
Holly.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Welcome...

Hi!

My name is Holly Olivia and am nearly 18 years old. I live in Wales (that's in the UK if your not familiar with it) with my parents and my brother and up until now, I've never really had a hobby. I tried ballet when I was little but lessons were on a Saturday and my priority at that point in my life was playing with my dolls. I tried swimming but I found it boring. I paint every now and again but not enough for it to be considered a hobby. So I thought I might give blogging a try.

English and reading and writing (as well as art) have always been my special thing. My brother loves sports, my eldest cousin is really good at maths and science and my youngest cousin is an amazing dancer. Reading and making up stories to tell them has always been my thing. When I was little I used to run home from school with an idea in my head, take a piece of paper from the printer, draw pencil lines and write a story on one side, and draw the pictures for it on the back. To this day I still have a huge box full of the old stories I wrote.

It was at that time that I told my mum that I wanted to write stories when I grew up and illustrate them myself. Its a bit of an ambitious career goal for a five year old but it was more realistic that my other choices (a disney princess or a mermaid) and so my mum was pretty happy.

As I grew older I used to write stories on my laptop. Me and my brother would do it together; we would think of a story together and then I would write it up and print it out and he would keep it in the drawer next to his bed. When I started going to comprehensive school the stories stopped. I don't know why they stopped but I became so fixated on doing well in my exams and so paranoid that people would think I was weird or stuck up (that's another post) that I just couldn't find the time to write anymore and when I did have the time I chose not to. One of my friends loved writing stories as well and so that became her thing and I just stopped. I still loved reading but I didn't read as much as I used to (I used to love book series so I could sit down at the weekend and read them all one after the other).

This summer I got my AS exam results. They were by no means bad, I passed them all, but I realised that the subjects I was studying because they looked impressive or because I needed them for a university course or a career I didn't do nearly as well as I wanted to in because in reality, I didn't really care about them. They stressed me out and gave me headaches and I didn't like them all that much. The only A that I got last year was in english literature.

And so it made me think, why am I wasting my time doing all these subjects that I don't particularly like just for a letter on a piece of paper? Why is it that the earlier in the alphabet the letter on the paper is, the better I feel? If you would have asked me last year what my favourite letter in the alphabet was I might have told you "A" because that is the grade I expected of myself. Now I  am saying that I don't have a favourite, I love all the letters equally because its not the letters themselves but what you do with them that matters. I have also decided to start reading more and writing again and this is where I want to start.

As well as reading and writing as that is all I seem to have gone on about for the entirety of this post I have some other interests too. As I said, I love painting. I love making cakes. I love trying different beauty products every now and again and finding something that really works. I love clothes shopping and trying to find my own personal style (I don't really have a personal style yet but I'm working on it). I love talking and being able to share my opinion and listening to other peoples opinions, seeing things from a different perspective (even though I am very shy and I have to really push myself to have a conversation with anyone outside my group of friends in real life).

When I sat down to write this post earlier nothing flowed and I ended up deleting it. I felt like I had lost the ability to write and words didn't come to me like they used to. I am so glad I tried again. Writing like this without having to think about what word to use or whether it sounds awkward feels amazing. I feel like me again.

If anyone else has a passion that they may or may not have lost touch with let me know.

Bye for now!
Holly Olivia.