Nostalgia: Sharing Sam

“You know, just because she’s sick, hon, it doesn’t mean you have to put your life on hold. Just because something bad’s happened to Izzy doesn’t mean you can’t have good things happen to you.”

Gosh, how I love Sharing Sam by Katherine Applegate. Love. It.

I decided to reread it because I was in a bit of a reading slump–at least where fiction was concerned. I’m so glad I did. The book is so engaging from the beginning until the end. I so love the humor of the first chapter, the way Applegate sets up so well the comedic awesomeness of Sam/Alison and the awkward awfulness of Izzy’s cancer revelation. The balance of the chapter just perfectly introduces the impending conflict as well as the tone. Not only that but it’s clear right away why Alison has that split loyalty.

The duality (or *~levels~*) of the title just hit me during this reread. Alison is not just sharing Sam in the sense that she’s, you know, pretending not to be interested in him so her BFF can date him. She’s sharing the experience of Sam, the heady feel of first love and the joy and bliss of feeling that cared for. Even though Sam is his own fully realized character with his own motivations and desires, he does act as a symbol and a stand-in. Sam could be any awesome experience that someone with a terminally ill loved one feels guilty about having. The difference, of course, is that Sam is a person with his own feelings, which makes everything deliciously messy.

I think Applegate is also adept at handling survivor’s guilt here. When I was younger, I didn’t really know/understand that term, but as an adult, I can appreciate how Applegate deals with it. Contrary to what she says, Alison does feel guilty/bad that she’s going to live while Izzy dies. And Alison does feel like maybe she shouldn’t get to be happy while Izzy is miserable, so finds a way to make herself experience a great loss while Izzy is sick. I love that there are characters who call Alison on it, too. That her mother says, “Hey, it’s okay for you to be happy,” and that Sam’s own situation parallels Alison’s in so many ways.

I also love that the book makes the reader question how selfless Alison’s act is. And that the book asks the reader to question whether or not she could handle such an arrangement

But I especially love that this Love Stories book is as much–if not more so–about the love between best friends, about Alison’s love for Izzy even as it has that Sam element throughout.

YA Reading Challenge: 25/75

Book Review: Women Food and God

I will be forever annoyed that there are no commas in that title.

I’ve told this story for many more years than I lived it, but it only recently became clear to me that the radical part of the tale is not that I stopped dieting; it’s that I stopped trying to fix myself.

You may have heard of Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth. It’s been on the non-fiction bestsellers’ list since its first week, and it was featured in O Magazine (how I first heard about it) and on a little something called The Oprah Winfrey Show.

The title alone had me interested in the book, and before I read one O-endorsed word, I knew I was going to read the book.

It’s funny because when I started the book, I was a detached observer thinking the book didn’t apply to me.  I kept feeling that way until I got to the end of the prologue and one line jumped out at me. In that one line, the book became personal.

When Roth was on Oprah (and, yes, I watched both of the episodes before reading the book), Oprah said that you could substitute “food” with “sex” or “drugs” or with anything else women may have an unbalanced relationship. After reading the book, I’m inclined to agree. The main thrust of the book is getting women to consider why they crave or reject food when it comes to dealing with emotion. Why is it so much easier to over- or undereat instead of allowing ourselves to feel?

When a diabetic tells me that she can’t eat what she wants because what she wants will kill her (and therefore she feels deprived), my response is that what will kill her is wanting another life than the one she has, another condition than the one that is hers…It’s not her eating that is killing her, it’s her refusal to accept the situation.

I think Roth is definitely onto something in terms of examining relationships with food. She advocates mindful eating and intentional eating. Eat when you’re hungry without distractions and make sure you feel your feelings. Easy enough, right?

In some ways, though, I think she oversimplifies. Her notion that you’ll eat what’s right for you if you stop and listen to your body sounds good, but the reality is that sometimes people do need to be re-taught what and how to eat. Not only that, but her book ignores the importance of support in the form of a group or an individual to help women work through the issues/triggers for over/undereating.

Ironically, most of her observations are made based on not only her personal experiences with dieting and weight, but on observations of retreats she runs for a group of women. I mean, I know the focus is on self, but feeling full emotions can be terrifying if there isn’t someone else around to help you as you think about turning to food instead.

Maybe that’s why Mighty O started a companion guide for the members of her community? [Yeah I am kind of an Oprah kind of person. Shocker, right?]

I also got annoyed with the tone at times. It’s very calming spa/yoga voice, which I don’t necessarily have a problem with, but it just got annoying to me in a few places. [It’s kind of like when someone starts talking to me like I’m going to flip out. Granted, I may be on the edge, but the calming voice can be its own irritant. Then again, it does give me something else to focus my annoyance/rage on. But I digress.]

I’m glad I read the book. It made me think about my relationship with food–as well as other areas in my life I might use to numb emotion.

Women Unbound: 8/8

Book Review: Runaway

I couldn’t help lifting my hand to finger the spot on my own scalp where, more than three months earlier, surgeons at the Stark Institute for Neurology and Neurosurgery had cut open my head, slipped out Nikki’s brain, and inserted my own.

Runaway by Meg Cabot is the conclusion of her Airhead trilogy. Emerson (Em) Watts is still in Nikki’s body in this one, and Stark’s master plan is explained.

What I Liked

– It’s Meg Cabot fare. You know. A good light read with fun characters and the requisite levels of ridiculousness. No one except the villain (Stark) is really bad.

– Lulu. Lulu continues to be awesome.

– The Stark plot is even more sinister than I thought.

– I think the first book was more effective in its commentary on judging a book by its cover and the notion of understanding someone because you think you know something about her. This book, though,  is really about the price of beauty as well as the value of youth and beauty in our society. Overall, I think this trilogy does some interesting things with regards to those questions.

What I Didn’t Like

– That said, there are some very conflicting messages about beauty. On the one hand, it’s skin deep. On the other hand, a decent makeover seems to erase a character’s deep personality flaws. So much so that she can win the affection of the boy she likes even when her personality still sucks. Um yeah. I don’t like that at all. It would be one thing if he were shown to have been drawn to her/intrigued by her before the makeover. Or even if they had GOTTEN ALONG. But no. Just because she’s pretty (now), she’s suddenly desirable as a girlfriend. Yeah, I didn’t like that at all. Obviously.

Thankfully, it’s only a small part of the plot. A very, very small part. Still, the impact is clearly felt (by me).

– Em is very generic in this book. By the end, I felt that she could have been substituted with just about any other Meg Cabot heroine.

And Christopher could have been any dude. They both felt kind of flat.

Luckily, everyone else is awesome. Especially Lulu. Did I mention I kind of love her? I might have to make her one of my literary girlfriends.

In conclusion: If you like Meg Cabot, you’ll like this book. It’s exactly what I expected (and needed) it to be. I think the first book of the trilogy is the strongest, but I like how everything (almost–let’s not count that one stupid pairing) is resolved here, especially the Stark drama.

YA Reading Challenge: 24/75

Book Review: Flight #116 Is Down

[Patrick] tried to be glad that so few local lives were in danger, but deep down he was hoping for a really good catastrophe.

In Flight #116 Is Down by Caroline B. Cooney, Patrick gets his wish for a catastrophe when a plane crashes on classmate Heidi’s property. It takes the effort of the whole town and surrounding areas to help with the rescue.

What I Liked

– The book reads like a movie. I could see it in my head with the “cut to”s and the “fade in”s and “fade out”s. [I should clarify that it’s not written as a script; I just imagined it as a movie as I was reading.] All of the dialogue felt pretty authentic, and I could imagine seeing it all play out.

– There are several players all with different motivations and personal dramas. The focus on the different characters makes the vignettes very effective and moving because you want to see how each little story gets resolved.

– Even though there are a lot of people, the narrative doesn’t feel bogged down. Everything moves along fast, and there’s so much going on that it feels/becomes intentional to lose the thread of certain people/situations.

– The book is a love letter to emergency workers, community, and teenagers. I especially love how even the most ineffectual seeming people (like Heidi) find a purpose and a sense of pride.

– There’s definitely a focus on the fact that there are more positive/caring teens than selfish and self-centered ones.

What I Didn’t Like

– Even though the characters’ motivations and drives are clear, it’s hard to really get to know any of them because of the pace. So even though the story is interesting, it’s also a little dry.

In conclusion: This book would be awesome for reluctant readers. And people who aren’t really afraid of flying (I actually read it on the plane). The action moves everything along, but it is kind of heavy on the carnage.

YA Challenge: 22/75