Finally: an Un-cliché Depression Story

Cassandra Hartt, The Sea is Salt and So Am I, hardcover $18.99, ISBN: 987-1-250-61924-2

The Sea is Salt and So Am I, a novel by Cassandra Hartt, is a thoughtful and accurate portrayal of depression, coming-of-age, relationships, and heartbreak. Any teenager can see themselves in the town of West Finch — somewhere quiet and close to the water, where everyone knows their neighbours and their vices, soon to be washed away with the town itself as the earth erodes into the sea. Twin brothers Tommy Macqueen, who struggles with depression, and Ellis Macqueen, who bears the emotional burden of his brother’s depression, along with teenage activist Harlow Prout, who fears change and losing her best friend Ellis, are accessible and multidimensional narrators whose lives and issues create a space for each and every reader to feel heard in one way or another. But just because the stories told through these characters are accurate, doesn’t mean they are handled in the best way. 

The town of West Finch isn’t so much a setting, as a character itself. West Finch is sinking into the ocean little by little — a metaphor for everything wrong with the three narrators, and the fights they each battle in their own chapters of the story. Hartt says this most succinctly in the very first sentence of the book. “Any other town, it’d be all they could talk about: how much longer until the house on Ocean Drive hurls itself into the sea” (Hartt, 3). Each storyteller in this novel has their own set of mental obstacles, whether it be fear of change, the future, or straight-up mental illness, such as depression. Interestingly enough, the issue of the town’s fate is secondary to their personal struggles. 

Tommy’s suicide attempt occurs early on in the book — he tries to drown himself while swimming in the sea. He is promptly sent to a mental hospital, where he spends seventy-two hours. The neighbourhood — family, friends, classmates, etc. — highly anticipates his return home, and Mr. and Ms. MacQueen decide to throw him a party at the family diner. Harlow, afraid of losing best friend Ellis due to the emotional burden of his brother’s depression, is determined to take matters into her own hands and cure Tommy’s illness herself. Her strategy is to start “fake dating” him; she thinks making out with him behind closed doors and flirting with him when parents aren’t around is better medication than any antidepressant. While this strategy improves Tommy’s mood in the moment, it causes more harm than good in the long run. 

Harlow’s greatest downfall, like the other two narrators, is that she acts on impulse. While Hartt accurately portrays the immaturity and inexperience of adolescent minds, this also makes the book a little bit unbearable to read at times. A common problem that adult authors run into while writing teenagers is that they make them a bit too clueless — Harlow is as naïve as a thirteen or fourteen year old, while Ellis is on his way to becoming an adult. Tommy is the only one of the three narrators who is portrayed with a true seventeen-year-old mind, but so many of his thoughts and decisions are drowned out by his mental illness. Hartt’s teenage characters are relatable, but not completely truthful. 

Despite its downfalls with inaccuracies regarding the experiences of Tommy, Ellis, and Harlow, I would recommend this book. Readers can find themselves in these characters. Hartt sheds light on common teenage concerns that many people are too afraid to bring up themselves, or maybe feel are taboo to talk about. While it is hard to truly convey the struggle of depression and mental illness as a whole, Hartt achieves to tell the story in an original way. However, do not be fooled by the description on the back — this story is about so much more than mental health issues. It tackles matters such as the fear of growing up or growing apart, diving into the unknown, and taking the reins of your own life with your newfound independence. Hartt’s characters are lively, but full of flaws; most importantly, they are accessible to anyone in this book’s target audience.

By: Josephine Sporte

Tagged : / / / /

Silent Child: A Joke With No Punchline

Sarah A. Denzil, Silent Child, $15.99, ISBN-10: 1542722829

Sarah A. Denzil’s Silent Child sets itself up to be the thriller of the decade through the use of cruel and disturbing real-world events, an intriguing and unique concept, a well fleshed-out cast of characters, and an intricately woven collection of minor plotlines that relate to the main plotline—and not in the way I expected. It remained wonderfully calculated and kept me on my toes…until the plot twist arrived.

In the beginning, the book introduces its main conflict: Emma Price’s child, Aiden Price disappears during a flood and is presumed to have drowned. The only thing left is his red jacket. His body is never found. Emma eventually declares him legally dead, closing the investigation. Ten years later, he wanders out of the woods, mute. He also has not properly learned to write due to being kidnapped at such a young age. Aiden Price is the only one who knows what happened to him, but he can’t tell his mother or the police for reasons unknown. Emma has regained control of her life in Aiden’s absence, with a new husband and a baby on the way, but that begins to disintegrate. Nothing is as it seems. Familiar faces are coming out of the woodwork. Emma’s friends and family are no longer to be trusted, as they are all turning against each other and Emma, for many reasons . The stage is set for the big reveal, some shocking plot twist, and in the moments before the final chapters, I was thinking almost anyone could be guilty of kidnapping Aiden. It was enthralling, it was exciting, and I was on the edge of my seat, expecting my mind to be blown.

When the plot twist is unveiled, the novel’s plot unravels in the most unsatisfying way, and the twist falls flat. The novel turns out to be more about Emma’s new life than Aiden’s trauma, and the resolution of his plot is poorly executed. My excitement that had been growing exponentially as time went on was lost—not popped, but slowly deflated, like someone letting go of the balloon they spent five arduous minutes pushing air into. I got whiplash from how quickly the focus of plot shifted, and the novel’s sloppy ending and explanations certainly didn’t help matters. I was left confused as to what point the book was trying to make by focusing all of its drama on the specifics of something that, in the end, didn’t really matter to the resolution. There are very few books that I would say do not provide any sort of payoff, but this book makes that list. Overall, Silent Child is a book that resembles hosting a slumber party: it began on a strong note, held my attention for the majority of its duration, and as I neared the end of it, I realized that I had wasted my time and that the book had overstayed its welcome. The book departed in a hurry, and I was left sitting on the floor, staring at the mess it has left behind in a mixture of awe and resentment.


By Kalista Puhnaty

Tagged : / / / /

A Prank Gone Too Far

Cheon “Alan” Lee on “You Gotta Want It” by Jake Paul

Jake Paul, You Gotta Want It, $15.00, 2016 (ISBN 978-1-5011-3947-5)

Unless you spend an exceptional amount of time on the Internet, it’s likely that you’ve never heard of the YouTubers Jake and Logan Paul, their exploits, and their rise to Internet infamy. Ask the average YouTube user, however, and they’ll likely criticize the Pauls for their obnoxious and offensive behavior. Examples include recording celebrities without their permission, burning furniture in their empty pool, and filming corpses in a Japanese suicide forest. Through these events, I initially concluded that the Paul brothers were nothing but pseudo-celebrities and was content with leaving it at that. However, I grew curious about their upbringing once I passed Jake’s memoir, aptly titled You Gotta Want It, in a Barnes and Noble, neatly stacked in front of the entrance. Instantly, I knew I had to plunge into this enigma of a book.

The memoir covers the Paul brothers’ journey from youth to adulthood, which is surprisingly well-documented. Easily one-third of the memoir covers their original goal of competing in professional football and wrestling. This, however, falls by the wayside once they discover several YouTube creators whose comedy routines inspire them to pursue this emerging medium. This involved creating a YouTube channel in their early teens, where they posted amateur prank videos, viewing YouTube as a hobby rather than a full-time job.

The early chapters carry an eerie sense of relatability. Of course, not many of us have experience in creating popular Internet content, but the non-Internet-related obstacles and events that occur early in Jake’s life aren’t different from what readers might have faced as children. There’s even an entire chapter titled “Really, Truly Stupid Behavior” where Jake regrets not trying as hard in school as he should have. At one point, Jake is accused of creating a video where he impersonates a fellow high school student. Though Jake is initially reluctant to apologize for his unintentional mistake, he later turns around and apologizes to the student, stating that he makes efforts to “never bully…intentionally.” Although one might doubt the accuracy of this quote based on his current behavior, the sincere tone of his apology humanizes him. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I had at least an ounce of sympathy towards Jake. I guess if you put anybody in a situation where they are at their lowest, you automatically see a human side to someone that just clicks.

Unfortunately, this optimism dies off by the next two-thirds of the book. Whereas the earlier chapters are understandably mischievous, it’s the later chapters that really start to resemble modern-day Jake. Readers are given a constant stream of information regarding Jake’s growing dislike for school, as he begins to devote more and more of his time to creating Vines, a former social media outlet in which people posted six-second long videos. When Jake finally gains traction in the social media world, he begins to look for any opportunity to branch out, eventually signing on to the Disney Channel show Bizaardvark and using his popularity on Vine to form a group of fellow content creators in an attempt to resemble Dr. Dre’s influential rap group, the N.W.A. From here, the book reads more like a list of accomplishments, a far cry from the more engaging and endearing childhood stories. It also doesn’t help that, in reality, nearly all of these ventures fail spectacularly, with Jake losing his job as a Disney actor and several members of his group leaving due to accounts of possible sexual and racial harassment.

The later chapters are held together in an irregular format, as loosely chronological events are intermingled with short lists of things Jake likes, a mini-chapter dedicated to Megan Fox, and exclusive photos of Jake Paul half-naked. Whether or not the informality of this book was intentional, Jake’s fanbase seems to greatly appreciate his style of humor that echoes the nature of juvenile Internet comedy, judging from the YouTube and Amazon reviews of this book

In short, You Gotta Want It is as much of a character study into Jake Paul as Trump: The Art of the Deal is for Donald Trump; both books provide a never-before-seen insight into a controversial individual, allowing readers to learn the history and motives of said subjects. Neither book really counts as “pleasure reading,” however, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything genuinely entertaining about Jake’s memoir. What few relatable moments or decent tidbits on how to create an effective social media presence Jake includes are then offset by entire passages outlining how many girls Jake hooked up with, or borderline-egotistical ramblings about how famous he once was on Vine.

At its best, You Gotta Want It is an inspirational autobiography that provides a glimpse into the limitless potential the Internet provides this generation. At its worst, You Gotta Want It is a poorly-timed “memoir” about a jock in his twenties who wants to go down as the icon of his generation, written more out of necessity for merchandising than out of a genuine desire to express his thoughts on his chaotic life.

By Cheon “Alan” Lee

Tagged : / / / / /

Deaf Republic: A Step Beyond Protest

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky: ISBN-10: 1555978312. Price: $11.00. Published March 5, 2019.

Ilya Kaminsky´s Deaf Republic is a brilliantly-crafted book of narrative poetry that moves through a sad and deeply thought-provoking plotline, inspired by Kaminsky’s own experiences in Russia as a child. It follows the story of people in a fictional town using deafness as a form of protest against violence and war, after a soldier kills a deaf boy in the street.

The depictions of violence and love throughout are eerily and astonishingly beautiful. Kaminsky creates a terrifyingly dreary and oppressed feeling throughout the book, while also highlighting the beautiful relationships and hope the townspeople continue to have despite the violence and oppression they are surrounded by.

As the poems go on and the story progresses, the townspeople who do not give up their protests are taken away one by one if they show signs of deafness. Despite this, protests continue in a silent fashion, while the responses of the soldiers grow more and more violent and intense.

The poems themselves are experimental. For example, “Dramatis Personae” is an early poem in the book designed to introduce characters in the collection. Kaminsky is also unafraid to say what he means, sometimes very intensely such as in the poem “As Soldiers March, Alfonso Covers the Boy’s Face with a Newspaper.” One of the lines within this poem is “We see in Sonya’s open mouth / the nakedness / of a whole nation.” The poems progress the overall story, and while in general the story is quite heavy and sad at times, each poem also adds a surprising and delightful level of dark humour, shocking language and profound descriptions of the violence.

Deaf Republic does not fall into the tropes of what is popular in poetry right now, which is mostly geared towards younger readers and is generally humorous, or give an air of shallow meaning masquerading as powerful. Instead Kaminsky goes for something different, using humour in an intelligent and meaningful way, and using illustrations subtly. Deaf Republic explores traumatic topics and heavy storylines beautifully rather than making the reader feel bombarded by violence. One thing that Kaminsky does well here which is important is including love in a story about war. War often tests our ability to maintain love, positive feelings and peace within ourselves and our homes while we’re experiencing violence outside of them. One of the most important things to remember in times of war and violence is to keep a sense of love or joy in some way. Kaminsky highlights this importance through the relationship described in his book, and the townspeople in general.

Kaminsky, who is hard of hearing due to a misdiagnosis of mumps at an early age, incorporates sign language in conjunction with deafness and protest, through simple and beautiful illustrations of sign language throughout the book. These drawings add to the poems without the poems becoming reliant on them.Overall, Kaminsky provides readers with a beautiful experience with Deaf Republic. The themes and plot can, at times, be related to current issues, and the book does an amazing job of bringing hope out of a traumatic situation. We could all learn a lot from the townspeople of Deaf Republic who put their lives on the line in the name of hope and love, and who refuse to give in to oppression.

Tagged : / / / / /

What You Didn’t Learn in History Class

David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, $12.71, ISBN-10: 0307742482

Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann, is a book you wouldn’t pick up on your own if you saw it on the shelf of your local bookstore. With a tiny sign that reads, “A great read! Based on a true story! It’s riveting! An absolute brilliant non-fiction book!” its cover is a reminder of how you were forced to read a book like this for an English class in your freshman year. You should still pick this book up though; covers can be misleading.

The novel follows the story of a bizarre case of murders in Osage County, Oklahoma, that occurred in the early 1920s which ultimately lead to the formation of the FBI. The murders appeared as elaborate but randomly timed events, and the government thus formed a group of highly-skilled detectives to solve these cases; this led the government to keep the newly-founded Bureau for future cases. The case study is examined by the novel, and David Grann exposes the corruption that was a result of greed and racism the government held for the Native American Osage people. Grann does a beautiful job of unraveling the mysteries behind these horrendous crimes, bringing to light what is left out of the history books.

Reading Grann’s book, you almost forget that this all happened in American history—it’s written as if it’s a work of fiction. The incredible details put into the book are remarkable, detailing the most trivial of minutia, such as how the sun was shining on the day of the first killing. Killers of the Flower Moon makes you search for the reason why someone would commit these murders, leading you to believe one thing until it pulls you into a different direction. It’s thoroughly researched to the point where the Osage people seem almost to be like characters you could touch with your own hands at any given moment. Grann goes into great detail about the people’s past, such as how their lives were  previously disturbed by the US government forcing them to move from their native land.

Even if this book looks like one you were forced to read in high school, it’s not; it’s much more. This is not your average high school non-fiction read—it details what others refused to look at previously, and goes in depth as to what these people suffered through, keeping their tales alive while still being fascinating to read.

By Ryan French



Tagged : / / / /

Love In The Time Of Stomach Bacteria

John Green. Turtles All The Way Down. 2017. 304 pages. $12.28. ISBN: 0525555366.

Turtles All The Way Down, John Green’s seventh novel, focuses on both a missing person and sixteen-year-old Aza Holmes, a teen struggling with mental illness.

The book’s strength is also its weakness: a complex character study of Aza and her challenges is made subplot to the mystery of a missing billionaire, as well as a budding romance between Aza and the billionaire’s son, Davis. The portrayal of anxiety and OCD in Turtles is well-done, but it gets overshadowed by the flimsy mystery of the missing man which takes up the first three-quarters of the book.

This is the sort of book you’d expect from John Green, as much of his work focuses on romance. His most popular novel, The Fault In Our Stars, follows two teens whose struggle with cancer draws them together. But despite a history of similar plots in Green’s past, Aza’s story feels original. Her character’s voice is shaped by a unique struggle to find out who she is, while often feeling out of control of her emotions.  

Aza meets Davis Pickett at a camp intended for children dealing with grief from the death of a parent, as they both lost a parent at a young age. The duo is drawn together by their mutual loss, as well as an unspoken understanding between them referred to as “seeing the same sky.” But the romance in this book is not nearly as sappy as Green’s previous works. For example, every time Aza and Davis make out, Aza falls into a “thought spiral” about how she’s going to get a bacterial infection called C. Diff—which leads to inflammation of the colon and potential death—if she continues exposing herself to Davis’s germs.

Aza’s self-destructive coping methods, such as compulsively sanitizing a cut on her thumb, escalate in the background of her new relationship. Her regular teen problems only add to the stress, with many of her relationships deteriorating as people feel pushed away. While there are attempts to solve the mystery of Davis’s missing father, including some Internet detective work, little progress is made. Sprinkled throughout the narrative are red herrings, like the shady nature of the billionaire’s staff; some are consistent to the point of convincing the reader they’re vital information, only to come to nothing.

The climax of Turtles All The Way Down reverses the main plot and the subplot, making Aza’s mental illness more significant than Davis’s missing father. Although Davis’ father’s disappearance receives closure, it comes late and feels forced, as if the author only remembered it at the last minute.

Watching Aza’s character grow and change is far more interesting than the romantic element of the novel. The darker elements of this book—poverty, the death of a parent, and a missing parent—are present, but unexplored. Most of the time, there’s too much going on to center on one thing.

Loyal John Green fans will appreciate his characteristic dives into philosophy, focusing on ideas of the self and free will, and the “intellectual” vocabulary the characters use. However, for casual readers, it does not hold a candle to his earlier successes.

Turtles All The Way Down is a decent book from a competent author, yet it attempts too much. Whether it was the pressure to meet the acclaim of his previous books, or the stress of accurately representing mental illness, Turtles All The Way Down is all over the place. While being dragged along on Aza’s spirals, you fall into one yourself—but it never reaches an end, and you are caught in the middle.

By Bailey Bujnosek.

Tagged : / / /

A Part Time Midwesterner’s Perspective of Robinson Alone

Kathleen Rooney. Robinson Alone. Gold Wake Press. 2012. 132 pages. $12.95. ISBN: 9780983700142.

Kathleen Rooney’s Robinson Alone is a collection of short poems that tell the tale of Robinson, a man based off a character in Weldon Kees’ poem “Robinson,” a poem which describes a man’s dog observing his master’s house once “Robinson has gone.” Following the character Kees created to a tee, Rooney takes us through Robinson’s life from his “middlewest” beginning to his stints in New York, California, and various road trips throughout the United States. Rooney brings to life Kees’ character from “Robinson” and gives him a life that is so real it can be easy to forget that Robinson is not a real person.

Coming from the “middlewest” myself, I could understand Robinson’s intense desire to leave the place exhibited in the poem “Robinson’s Hometown.” In this poem Robinson retained his desire to return to his hometown once he left, a sentiment I found to be incredibly accurate. As my history teacher once said, “The Midwest is the kind of place you miss.” Of course, Robinson would have his moment of exultation once outside the limits of his small town, but regardless of who you are or what your personality, the Midwest will creep its way back into your thoughts, leaving a melancholy that I found in Rooney’s book. It is easy to show one’s desire to leave. It is much harder to ingrain in a piece an inexplicable longing for an escaped hometown.

After Robinson’s move to New York City, the best characterization of the Midwest’s pull is when in “Robinson’s Parents Have Come to the City for a Visit” Robinson’s parents visit and “Bells in the tower of the church next door bellow the hour./The Our Father pops into his head unbidden; he’s not a pray-er.” The repercussions of his parents’ visit can be seen immediately after the visit in the following poem, “Robinson Sends a Letter to Someone.” Robinson takes a break from the city. We can see Robinson grappling with his desire to both be away from and return home in lines like, “Robinson/desires-& tires of-the semi-/constant public performance/required,” “Late of NYC, he’s really/from the late Great Plains, the great/American desert, the sea of grass/that has no real sea,” and, even in one of the final poems, “Out West,/in the hinterlands, no one/ever walks. But after work,/Robinson’s a one-man parade.”

Rooney did such a good job of capturing this unattainable sentiment that her Robinson immediately resonated with me, and it was not until writing this review that I knew why. This collection is perfect for anyone born of the Midwest, though I doubt coasters could fully understand the sentiments, having not grown up in the distinct salt-of-the-earth, bread basket culture that is hard to pin down and entirely unique to the American Midwest. Robinson’s story is both ordinary and vastly intriguing, one that everyone should discover.


Tagged : / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /