Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

(In which I embarked on a short trip away from fantasy.)

***

It is starting to become a habit. But it’s a habit I think I won’t regret, or stop doing.

What I mean is, this trailer.


And then this book.

The knot I felt in my stomach the moment Ed Sheeran was introduced by that strum is undeniable. I knew the movie is going to be painful -- like Nicholas Sparks and John Green kind of painful. But I took the risks.

And after reading the novel, I realized I wasn’t wrong. Well, I wasn’t entirely wrong.

Lou (short for Louisa) has lived a pretty normal life in Stortfold, even boring to some people’s standards. When The Buttered Bun, the cafĂ© she’s worked in for the last six years, closed up shop, she was forced to seek out employment in the Job Center, eventually ending up as a carer to Will Traynor, a wealthy quadriplegic.

Camilla, Will’s mother, hired Lou primarily because she wanted her to cheer Will up since Lou is apparently bereft of any medical training. Lou struggled to survive Will’s constant sarcasm and downright rudeness because her family needs the money. As Will starts to warm up to her, Lou hears (in yet another of her eavesdropping accidents) that Will intends to commit assisted suicide in Dignitas, a Swiss clinic. What’s worse is that Camilla agreed to it.

Torn between leaving the Traynors and helping Will choose to live, Lou decided that she will do anything to make him see how beautiful life is, despite the decision’s potential destructive effect on her own.

Me Before You is a fresh take on romantic fiction. It has just the right combination of wit, comedy and tear-jerking imagery and dialogues. Jojo Moyes also knows the value of comic relief so well. Her ability to insert sentences (in really unexpected places, if I may add) that can induce loud laughter, is admirable.

Her characters are very engaging and relatable. When Nicholas Sparks (judging from the films) and John Green’s (based on the book) characters can be too philosophical for their own good, Moyes’ are so human you’ll think you’re reading the life story of someone who know, or even your own. 

As a reader, I also don’t think that the author romanticized quadriplegia or the controversy of assisted suicide. The impressions of every character towards one another and their situations as well their internal conflict, are natural.

Some romance readers may have been too used to a certain ending that the novel’s conclusion may come as a surprise. But really, when characters have been painted so vividly well, I believe their fates have already and obviously been sealed since that wedding dance. 

But what’s surprising really, is the faith I held that somehow, I can will the pages to show me a different ending.

Me Before You explored common conflicts -- social class, religious, and philosophical differences. The plot traverses the path of The Bucket List, and The Fault in Our Stars bumping into similar conflicts. In the end though, none of these conflicts matters. There will always be a situation so complicated that even love can’t be enough to fix it. 

It could have been easy to have Patty Smyth as an earworm for this novel. But no, I’d take Sheeran any day.  It sounds more hopeful, and painful in a beautiful way.

Speaking of hope and beautiful pain, Me Before You has a sequel.

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The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

(In which it shouldn’t really be a surprise.)

***

I have always had a love-hate relationship with series. Yes, it gives my reading life purpose and direction. But, it’s also been a usual source of disappointment. Also, I’ve always thought that the first book is better -- or at least most of the time -- just as the original novel is better than the film adaptation.

The sequel to The 5th Wave is no exception.

Picking up from the time Cassie and Ben escaped Wright-Patterson military base (with massive help from Evan), the novel allows the readers glimpse to the life of the teens from Squad 53 prior to the Arrival, and the stories were of the same soul -- death and despair -- only with different faces. Each one of them struggles to maintain sanity in an obviously hopeless world. They are being hunted by two alien squads as per Vosch’s orders, and they can’t leave their hideout because Cassie’s hopes of Evan returning are still up. Of course, Cassie’s lovesickness and apparent blindness to a very major issue created a rift between her and Ringer. 

Just when I thought the story would just exploit Cassie and Evan’s teenage hormones, Yancey showed he has a different idea, though I am not very certain if I liked it.

I’m not good with math. But I guess almost half of the novel was focused on a character I knew was supposed to be big, but didn’t believe deserved that much exposure. It was almost like how some readers of Game of Thrones (that I know) slightly complained that Daenerys Targaryen’ exhausting storyline could have been used for other characters. Only I don’t have issues with Daenerys.

Anyway, this character’s capture led to the epiphany I already thought was lurking in the corner as it’s actually a staple in most dystopic/apocalyptic YA novels that I’ve read (some of which I regretted). But honestly, I didn’t want it to happen. Maybe I was thinking of a different epiphany. But then again, it still makes sense. It started as a huge possibility that translated to a horrible truth, which is actually not very surprising.

The Infinite Sea oddly reminds me of The Maze Runner Trilogy by James Dashner and The Pure Trilogy by Julianna Baggott. If I am to expect an ending, though, I’d choose Dashner’s. But expectations are very expensive now. Afterall, Rick Yancey might have something else in mind. 

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

(In which humanity ain't got no Jedi knights.)


***
I did it again.

Saw a cool trailer.



And another cool trailer.





Watched the movie. And then read the original novel.

In the beginning, I didn't really watch the movie because of the plot since I am not that fond of alien-related movies. In fact, I have just watched Star Wars episode 1 to 6 in December -- just in time before the seventh episode came out, because, FOMO maybe? But what really got me to watch The 5th Wave is -- wait for it -- Nick Robinson. 




Maybe another reason why I read the novel was FOMO, or Nick Robinson -- or maybe both.

The premise of the novel wasn't really something extraordinary. In fact, it's somehow been a formula: aliens attack Earth, Earthlings defend it (or try to), a war ensues, and more often than not, the Earthlings win. Put in some romance and a lot of gory death, and you've got just another alien movie.

Unless this one's not just another alien movie.

In most fiction that involves an apocalypse by way of alien invasion, the evil guys often resort to quick annihilation. Imagine Darth Vader in the Death Star (and don't forget the Imperial March!). But the way the alien invaders in the 5th Wave chose to "rid Earth of humans" is much crueler. they chose to do it in steps or waves.

During the First Wave, they shut off the grid. In the Second Wave, they created natural disasters. Then, they made the avian flu virus evolve in the Third Wave. By the Fourth Wave, the "lucky" survivors will be hunted down by mercenaries. Those who still survive will be taken care of by the Fifth Wave.

After these waves, 7 billion people on Earth have been wiped out. And the "lucky" ones left were just corpses waiting to happen.

These lucky people were composed mostly of teenagers and children, each with their own horrible stories of loss to tell. Sixteen-year-old Cassie witnessed the death of her parents, and watched helplessly as her brother was taken by the military to safety. Desperate to keep a promise to her brother, she struggled to stay alive. But not without the help of the mysterious Evan Walker. Her thoughts were often filled by memories before the arrival of the aliens -- or Others. At times, she thought of Ben Parish, the hot guy who never know she exists.  When all of their paths cross, they finally have an idea of what humanity is really up against.

Reading the first chapter of The 5th Wave was like feeling your heartbeat -- simple sentence after simple sentence. Not that it's a bad thing. In fact, it makes one understand the cruciality of the situation. I mean, who has time to process compound-complex sentences when you're barely surviving? 

There were moments, of course, when I do a double-take on Cassie's (and mostly every teenage character's) personality as I try to grapple with the idea that sixteen-year-olds like her can be that tough. Or maybe I was just measuring the scenarios using my sixteen-year-old self, which, honestly, isn't a very good yardstick. But still, I often have difficulty grasping the fact that humanity's future lies on the hands of juveniles battling extraterrestrial (or paranormal, in other cases) villains. But I know this is YA, so I'll chill.

The love story part wasn't boring, actually. Nor is it something that makes me want to curl into a ball and purr like a cat. The conversations helped a lot in building Cassie and Evan's characters, though. But, at some point I was afraid that Evan Walker is channeling his inner Edward Cullen, but then again, don't most heroes do? Cassie's no Bella, though. And that's a very good thing. The girl's kickass!

The reality factor of the story comes in whenever a character is faced with human internal crises that will make Erik Erikson proud: identity confusion, trust vs. mistrust, intimacy vs. isolation -- you get the idea. These parts are my favorites, and usually the ones that kept me awake in the middle of the night.

The novel made me, once again, think of what matters in life and how much I'm willing to sacrifice in order to live and save someone's life. It made me learn the value of making choices and keeping promises. Also, it gives lessons on how to keep one's self alive in case of an apocalypse. That may come in handy. That is, if ever I get past Wave 3.



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The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey









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