Friday, March 21, 2014

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

From Goodreads:

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.

Ok, this is one I really wish I hadn't listened to. This is an extremely complex book with multiple story lines, lots of characters, endings and beginnings. I think reading it as a physical book so I could flip back to previous plot lines to remember minor characters and piece things together.

What I did manage to piece together, though, was lovely. Ursula Todd, through her various attempts at life, slowly becomes a strong, smart woman. What a gift to be able to try life over and over until you get it exactly right. Her stories are fascinating, heart-breaking, life-affirming. I'd like to come back to this one someday when the hold list at the library isn't a million people long.

Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood by Leah Vincent

From Goodreads:

Leah Vincent was born into the Yeshivish community, a fundamentalist sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. As the daughter of an influential rabbi, Leah and her ten siblings were raised to worship two things: God and the men who ruled their world. But the tradition-bound future Leah envisioned for herself was cut short when, at sixteen, she was caught exchanging letters with a male friend, a violation of religious law that forbids contact between members of the opposite sex. Leah's parents were unforgiving. Afraid, in part, that her behavior would affect the marriage prospects of their other children, they put her on a plane and cut off ties. Cast out in New York City, without a father or husband tethering her to the Orthodox community, Leah was unprepared to navigate the freedoms of secular life. She spent the next few years using her sexuality as a way of attracting the male approval she had been conditioned to seek out as a child, while becoming increasingly unfaithful to the religious dogma of her past.

I don't remember how I heard about this book but it fit right in with my religious memoir kick. This one, however, was FAR more intense than the others. Leah Vincent was cut off from her family and community for the sin of exchanging letters with a boy. She was completely unprepared for regular life alone in a big city and ended up in...situations. I don't want to spoil it but I seriously sat there wide-eyed through most of the book. I kept thinking, "Surely this is rock bottom." And then something else would happen and I'd be like, "Oh...nope, this is it." And get the picture.

At one point she decided she was so broken that her only real option was prostitution. That did not go well for her. 

The thing that totally broke my heart about this book is that Leah was really trying. She didn't CHOOSE to leave her faith tradition. They unceremoniously kicked her out because they saw someone who was struggling a bit.

That hit pretty close to home. I'm a part of some groups of people who are all over the faith spectrum when it comes to the Mormon church. The saddest part is that most of these people are really trying. They want to stay. But when they ask questions or raise concerns an incredibly common response from the community is, "Why don't you just leave the church?" Why are orthodox religions so quick to shove the struggling ones from the nest? What is it about doubt that scares us so much that we're willing to kick a soul out completely rather than try and help them through it and find their place? 

There was a lot in Vincent's book that I couldn't relate to but a surprising amount that felt familiar. This book isn't for everyone (there's some sexual content) but I found it honest and amazing.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

From Goodreads:

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.

I actually finished this one a while ago but then the nausea hit and I just never got around to writing about it, despite the fact that I really liked it.

This is kind of a hard read, to be honest. The story is very sweet but the ending is rough. You're pulling for the power of love and isn't enough. The story made me think hard about the idea of euthanasia. Honestly I've never been opposed to it...if people want to die and their life is total crap for whatever reason, who am I to judge? But I feel like I came away from this story feeling the opposite. That idiot had something to LIVE for! Why didn't he even give it a TRY with Lou? I'm not sure becoming anti-euthanasia was the point of the book, but whatever. My change of heart is on YOU, Jojo.