Parallel on the Other Side

  • What: A Burning
  • Who: Megha Majumdar
  • Pages: 289 pages
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction
  • Published: 2020
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

All this time at home has given me ample opportunity to think in the past year — probably to my detriment. One thing I can’t help thinking about it is how much I’d love to move to another country — literally any country — to avoid the racism, xenophobia, and ultra-conservative viewpoints in the U.S. I know running away doesn’t fix problems; it just puts them further at bay. And deep down, I know no country is perfect, and every place has its own set of issues. It’s just been so upsetting to see how much our country has reversed in the last five years that it’s easy to think the grass is always greener.

That idea came to me while reading A Burning but probably not for the reason you’d expect. This contemporary fiction book, which takes place in India, certainly demonstrates that no place is perfect. But it made me wonder what someone in another country might think of America, especially after the year we’ve had. I can’t imagine it’s anything too positive. Furthermore, by viewing the parallels with a country we often deem inferior (hell, we deem every country inferior), I was reminded that the ideals the U.S. loves to cling to are shadowed in hypocrisy. I doubt that was author Megha Majumdar’s intention, but it certainly struck a chord, which all great books do.

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Storied: There’s Gotta be More to Life

I admit that I’m pretty impressionable — or at least I thought I was before writing this review. I just googled “impressionable” to make sure I had the definition right, and it defines an impressionable person as someone who is “easily influenced because of a lack of critical ability.” Hey now. I have critical ability. Don’t I?

I guess my point is that I can have strong opinions, especially toward books, music, movies, and TV, but if someone strongly opines in a different way, I can generally be persuaded. I kept this characteristic in mind when I started Ender’s Game. I promised at the beginning of the year that I would try at least two science fiction novels this year. When I asked Kyle — the biggest sci-fi fan I know — to recommend me a book, he chose Ender’s Game and added that it’s one of the premiere books in the genre. Clearly, he loved this book; I needed to recognize his influential opinion so that my own wouldn’t be swayed from the get-go.

I was pretty good about sticking to my opinion throughout the book, but I teetered on a final rating once I finished it. A few days later, Kyle and I had a virtual date night with two friends who brought up the movie version organically. I told them I just finished the novel, and they both started raving about how much they loved the book. As they praised it, I could feel my own opinion changing. Was I misremembering my experience with the novel? Did I enjoy and appreciate it more than what my mind had been telling me? Was I about to be persuaded again? I ruminated over it for a few days before writing this post so that my mind was clear before making a firm decision. I wanted this review to be 100% my own; it would not be influenced by others’ opinions. Although a teeny tiny part of me is still flip-flopping, let me demonstrate my critical ability that led me to my unpopular and average opinion.

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I Still Believe (Still Believe)

I used to be a sucker for the romcom and the romdram. Is that a genre? If not, it should be. The Notebook, Titanic, 27 Dresses, P.S. I Love You, The Wedding Date, 500 Days of Summer, and SO many more filled the days of my youth. (Nora Ephron classics came later in life). I used to peruse the $5 movies at Target looking for any and every cliché romantic movie I could find. In fact, I used to go to Target on Black Friday specifically for this reason and not to buy Christmas presents for other people. I have no shame.

Somewhere along the line, though, I fell out of love with fictional tales that focused on cliché love itself. Maybe it was maturity. Maybe it was a reality check. But now, I can barely sit through five minutes of The Notebook.

*Please do not discount the gravity of this sentence. I used to watch The Notebook or Titanic (or both) every week.*

Every now and then, however — usually when the going gets tough — I crave a little cliché romance. I’m not talking chick lit; I mean pure romance and cliché. Enter: Waiting for Tom Hanks, the novel dedicated to the romcom genre that I have long since avoided. My friend Kelliann sent me this book after a rough week but warned that it was pure fluff and to not have high literary expectations; just be prepared for an escape. A welcome escape was exactly what I got, but did the fluff go too far?

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One Sweet Day

Do you ever feel like a book has it all? Hardly ever. It’s a challenge to find a book that engages you; perfectly utilizes a plethora of literary devices; has poetic writing without seeming over the top or losing you; tells a really good story; and has powerful themes. When you do come across this rare occurrence, you have to pause and think, “Wow. I loved every part of that book.”

Well, I guess you could say 2021 is off to a great start because I’ve already found a book that has everything. And I finished it only 16 days into the year. That greatness came in the form of Marcus Zusak’s historical fiction novel, The Book Thief, which Kyle had — for good reason — been recommending to me for awhile.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also tell you that this novel somehow made me both laugh and cry. I don’t know how Zusak accomplished so much in 500 pages, but I’m sure glad he did.

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Playing with Matches

I have two favorite literary qualities I seek when I read a book or article: voice and characterization. You’ve read many a post where I either praise a book for having one of these qualities (here’s one for voice and another for characterization), and you’ve certainly seen me complain about the lack of them on more than one occasion.

Voice not only keeps you engaged in a book, but it also allows you to better understand the characters, making it an integral part of characterization, which is such an important quality. Without it, readers cannot fully see who these people are and why and how that motivates their actions. When a book has strong voice and characterization, and its main characters’ experiences completely differ from your own, that’s when empathy, understanding, and — most importantly — change occur.

That was the experience I had with The Kiss Quotient, whose main character, Stella, has Asperger syndrome. Not only was this book funny and sweet, but author Helen Hoang’s portrayal of Stella was so strong that I found myself in awe of the social struggles that someone with Asperger’s endures, which I had only ever experienced from a very far distance before this book. Stella’s story — and the author’s too — is one I’ve never personally witnessed, and I’ve never read about it in a fictional setting either. Hoang puts you face to face with it. By placing me directly inside Stella’s mind, which enhanced the book’s voice, I could feel everything she felt every single day — no matter how difficult.

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No Body, No Crime

No judgment on yet another Swift-inspired book review title. I can’t help who influences me!

OK, so thrillers and mysteries don’t find themselves on Big Little Literature that often. I can’t provide an explanation for this other than I usually get swept up in other genres. So I was looking forward to something different with my latest read, My Sister, the Serial Killer.

Despite what the title says, I didn’t get any thriller or mystery vibes — though a lot of readers and critics certainly did. Yes, there are some murders, and there is tension about the culprit being caught. But this novel, with themes of abuse, family, and loyalty, doesn’t remind me of any other book I’ve read in those genres. In fact, it’s completely different than any book I’ve read.

It’s funny and dark and has just the right amount of f**ked-upness. Do I feel weird saying I appreciated how refreshing this book was? Even if the “refreshment” stems from a serial killer and a sister who takes care of the body? Ehhh I never professed normalcy.

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Ranked: Reads in 2020

Nobody could have predicted where 2020 would take us or, rather, not take us. All this time at home, though, hasn’t been all bad, and books were — once again — a constant companion. I’m incredibly thankful for the characters who became friends and the narratives that granted me an escape, and of course, I’m forever grateful for the authors whose creative minds told stories and enabled my imagination.

But let’s get down to the nitty gritty and see how all 30 books rank for me in the year 2020 (with my super cool artwork I created on Canva).

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Secret Moments in a Crowded Room

Yes, all three Jasmine Guillory books have T.Swift lyrics in their review title. I can’t help it these two women absolutely kill it in their respective careers.

And when I say Guillory is killing it, I mean it; she may just be sliding her way into my favorite author slot. I can say that confidently after reading three of her five novels. I knew I’d found a stellar author after reading The Proposal in 2019, and recently reading her debut, The Wedding Date, confirmed it for me. I loved it so much that I instantly threw away by #tbr list to divulge into Guillory’s next chronological novel, The Wedding Party.

I read two Guillory books in less than two weeks, and it may have been the two best literary weeks of 2020. The Wedding Party didn’t quite top her previous two books I’d read, but I still enjoyed every moment of it. And Guillory once again gave me everything I loved in her previous work: realistic characters with depth, diversity, entertainment, wit, and a whole lot of love — both literally and euphemistically.

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At Least We Were Electrified

I owe chick lit an apology. Too often this year, I’ve used the genre as a clutch and as an escape. Read something sad? Life and the world are blowing up? No worries; let’s check in with chick lit for a pick-me-up. It will surely turn things around. How did one of my favorite genres become my sidepiece when the going got tough?

Such an amazing genre deserves better, so to end 2020, I decided to make chick lit my main squeeze, starting with Paris for One. By the time I finished it, I knew I had to continue on my Tour de Fun with these light-hearted and entertaining novels by turning to one of the best in the genre: Jasmine Guillory.

I first met Guillory’s writing in the summer of 2019 with her five-flame second book, The Proposal, which is actually the second of five very loosely connected books that Guillory has written. The Proposal was so much fun, made me laugh, and made my mouth salivate with all of its delicious food scenes. Not to mention the characters and their arcs had some serious depth and dealt with real-life issues rather than just romantic clichés. Oh, and it’s full of diversity. If it sounds like Guillory’s books have it all, that’s because they do, which was proven once again in her debut, The Wedding Date. And yes, somehow things got even spicier with this one.

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Bon Voyage

Life is all about balance, right? Well, it definitely applies to literature. At a few points this year, I found myself emotionally affected by books I was reading. The human experience can be some deep shit, and when you’re living it every day, you don’t always want it in your literature. Here Comes the Sun, Normal People, and A Little Life have all had profound effects on my moods and emotions, and I had to quickly proceed these books with fun picks that would distract me from literary chaos and that which exists in the real world.

For the first time in years, though, I recently had to stop a book in the middle of it and find something else as a distraction. Reading two books at once isn’t really a concept my brain understands, but it was something I desperately needed in November. After Kyle and I witnessed a tragedy outside our apartment, my mental health just couldn’t endure Yaa Gyasi‘s powerful and emotional second novel Transcendent Kingdom.

So I scoured available chick lit novels at my library while halfway through Gyasi’s book. I really wanted to continue it, but I knew my heart and brain couldn’t. Eventually I landed on a Jojo Moyes novel: Paris for One. Now, I had some trepidations about this pick. I’ve only read Moyes’ Louisa Clark series, which I loved, and The Giver of Stars, which gave me “meh” lit feels. My skepticism had less to do with her so-so latest book and more to do with the fact that Me Before You almost had me in tears on the subway. Yes, I would generally consider Moyes’ novels to live in the chick lit realm, but her books certainly aren’t devoid of sadness. (News flash: Chick lit isn’t all fluff!) Was this a risk worth taking when my mental health was already teetering?

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