Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Publisher: Penguin Books Genre: Contemporary Fiction Pages: 416 Format: Paperback Buy Local My Rating: 3/5 stars
In Gail Honeyman’s debut novel, she details the story of Miss Eleanor Oliphant, a 29-year-old intelligent, witty, and independent woman living in Glasgow, Scotland. Eleanor sees the world, and her very existence, as a very private routine that—if kept in order—would allow her to maintain an acceptable and satisfactory life. But Eleanor’s idea of normal quickly crumbles away when she meets her new best friend, Raymond, and experiences human connection like never before.
With every new social interaction comes a fresh internal perspective for Eleanor. Experiences that may seem trivial to the more extroverted person push Eleanor outside of the emotional and physical boundaries that have bubbled around her for so long. These moments test the initial beliefs she held about her life habits and the constructs of her own identity. Seen as a modern Jane Eyre, you will at the very least come to admire the beautifully raw character that is Eleanor Oliphant.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine proved to be both an entertaining and heartfelt novel that puts you through a rollercoaster of emotions. You will encounter sweet and charming moments contrasting with painful awkwardness, topped by a heart-aching sadness for Eleanor’s history and struggling emotional state.
At first read, you might find Eleanor to carry a distant persona with her unique family history and perspective on life. Yet, as you get deeper into the story, you will empathize with the darkest bits of fear, doubt, and shame that in reality is not easily or regularly voiced to others, but ultimately proves to be a big part of Eleanor’s existence.
Gail Honeyman offers an authentic angle on the realities behind trauma, solitude, and friendship through a narrative laced with unspoken grief. She reflects on what it is like to live in a time where an individual can be surrounded by hundreds of people, either physically or online, and still feel overwhelmingly alone. Honeyman illuminates how this loneliness can be overcome with the support of friends or family and a strong individual will to not just survive, but live freely and with an open heart.
Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light by Apryl Stott
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Genre: Children’s Literature Pages: 40 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Rating: 4/5 stars
This year has been exceptionally stressful. I’m not going to sugarcoat it—life has just hit every single person with a thick, hard, brick. However, in the “season of giving,” no book could be more suited to bring some light in the darkness than Apryl Stott’s Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light. This children’s book is a perfect holiday gift or family read both because of its winter-esque imagery, but also its message. As opposed to telling the stories of typical holiday novels and children’s books, this picture book takes the reader on the journey of a young girl named Coco and her best animal friend, Bear (who is also a bear). Coco and Bear go around the woods attempting to share gifts with the other forest friends to show how kind and loving Bear is, despite his grizzly appearance. However, when this doesn’t work, Coco and Bear discover that kindness and light isn’t about tangible gifts, but continuous selfless actions for others.
I remember reading Christmas stories when I was a kid at school, or seeing The Grinch and A Christmas Carol on T.V. However, I didn’t really appreciate the value of such stories because they were continuously played. However, this Christmas I wanted to revisit my childhood and longed for a story that would bring light in the darkest of years and emphasize one thing everyone needs in life—kindness.
For adults, this book may be simplistic—however, if you look deeper than the short script and thin pages, you’ll find characteristic artwork, a heartwarming plot, and an inspiring message. The truth is books like Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light are not just for children because it conveys a strong message in simple language; one that is too-often forgotten. Coco and Bear could not have been more different, but they were connected by their inherent friendship. That love is what ultimately allows the other forest animals to see Bear better: it wasn’t elaborate gifts or active promotion of how good Bear was, but their actions that demonstrated Bear’s character. I appreciated this message, not only because of the tense and stressful climate of the past year, but especially because it is the holiday season. It is not about what we physically give others, but how we show respect and kindness to our family, our peers, our neighbors, and most of all to strangers.
I’m not going to tell you how this book ends, but I will note that perhaps this holiday season we can all bring light and kindness to our friends, family, strangers, and most importantly ourselves. And remember this season and as we approach the new year—“When life gets dark as winter’s night, share some kindness, bring some light.”
If you’re anything like me, you may be feeling stressed about the current state of the world. To start, there’s a global pandemic. To complement that, there is a lot of global unrest and political tension. Sometimes reading news headlines makes me want to curl up into a little ball and hide under my bedsheets. Sometimes it seems like we’re in dire need of some humanity and compassion—and there is seemingly little to be found.
Because of my current mental state, I’ve recently found myself looking for little sparks of positivity. By doing this, I hoped to balance out the negativity of both world events and the minor inconveniences of everyday life. Naturally, I turned to books. I often find that fictional stories not only prove to be a pleasant escape from reality but also offer a glimpse into the truths of human emotion and love. By living vicariously through story book characters, I’m able to examine how deeply I feel and what resonates with me in regards to the emotions of the characters. This way, I’m able to re-evaluate my life using a brighter perspective. I often finish stories feeling more empathetic and with more peace of mind than I had when I started reading.
That being said, I’ve selected a few heartwarming novels that have made a positive impact on my life, often in more ways than one. If nothing else, they’ve helped me view life through a more optimistic lens. The following is a compilation of a few stories that are sure to improve your mood:
The Matchmaker—Catriona Innes. Caitlin lives in her own world. It’s seemingly perfect, but, in reality, it is riddled with fallacies. This story follows Caitlin as she explores who she is, with focus on the time of social media and dating apps, when it appears as though we have never been more connected yet more isolated. The Matchmaker is a story about love, loss, and loneliness, and learning to accept your reality. It is an uplifting novel, and Caitlin’s character and her progression are sure to win your heart.
Fangirl—Rainbow Rowell.Fangirl is the story of two twin sisters named Wren and Cath who have suffered the misfortune of growing up without a mother. Their father is also absent for most of their lives, and they cope with this in different ways. Cath is an introvert—she is content to live in the world of the internet and her books. Her sister, Wren, is also her best friend. The story follows the two girls as they embark on their first year of college, as they are faced with the need to adapt. This story is a great pick for anyone who enjoys a genuine, funny, and charming novel.
A Man Called Ove—Fredrik Backman. This book was recommended to me by my Grandma. I was hesitant to read it at first because it didn’t immediately pique my interest. However, once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. It’s almost impossible not to be enveloped in the story of Ove, an ornery old man who has all but completely given up on life. He is retired, has a short temper, and arguably has way too much time on his hands. He uses most of his spare time to enforce block association rules that no one else cares about. He also occasionally visits his wife’s grave. Although the story starts out looking rather bleak, the novel gains traction when an energetic young family moves in next door and accidentally flattens Ove’s mailbox. In the aftermath, the family and Ove develop a sincere and caring—albeit sometimes dysfunctional—relationship. This story is amazing for anyone who needs a smile, or even some hope.
A Mango-Shaped Space—Wendy Mass. Mia Winchell is a girl who has just entered adolescence. However, she struggles with things far beyond the typical trials of becoming a teenager, such as puberty and romance. Instead, Mia lives with synesthesia, which can be described as a confusion of the senses. For example, to Mia, words and sounds appear to have color. The novel circulates around Mia’s experiences with synesthesia and the problems she faces in school and with her friends. In learning to overcome something most people her age (and most people in general) don’t know about or understand, she navigates finding her voice and place in the world. I would recommend this book to anyone who feels stuck or needs a pick-me-up.
Publisher: Atria/ Emily Bestler Books Genre: Fiction, Romance Pages: 320 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Rating: 4/5 stars
Dear Emmie Blue tells the story of Emmeline Blue as her life falls to pieces. When she was 16, Emmie released a balloon with a secret written on it, only for it to wash up on a distant shore and introduce her to her best friend, Lucas. Now in her twenties, she is hopelessly and irretrievably in love with Lucas, and thinks he is finally going to ask her out—only for him to announce that he is getting married. To make matters worse, Lucas wants Emmie to be his “best woman,” prolonging and magnifying her anguish. From her dead-end job, distant mother, and aloof landlady, Lucas’s engagement is the last straw for Emmie.
Despite all the loneliness and heartache, however, wonderful things are in store for Emmie Blue. Lia Louis’ novel pays homage to the idea that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, and reminds us that unexpectedly wonderful things could be waiting just around the corner.
I don’t know about you, but this year has been a doozy for me. This was a book that I desperately needed to help me cope with this unpredictable—and sometimes depressing—world we’re living in. This might seem to be an odd sentiment, given that Emmie faces heartbreak and calamity for a decent portion of the book. I would argue, though, that a book with a certain amount of despair is fitting, given the current state of things (so long as all ends well). While Louis undoubtedly forces the reader to empathize with the protagonist, there is a certain hope found in seeing a character continue pressing on, even when things look bleak.
I think a great deal of charm in this novel comes from Emmie Blue herself. She manages to be strong and fragile, resilient and weary, all at once. More so than this, you truly feel for her throughout the book. Especially when she divulges the details of a sexual assault in her youth, and wrestles with her broken relationship with her parents, you can’t help but root for her. It’s hard to not be in Emmie’s corner, especially concerning her relationship with Lucas—a kismet meeting if ever there was one. Both Emmie and us as the reader see these two as so obviously destined to be together, and it’s beyond frustrating that they aren’t. Even characters that I didn’t find very likable, such as Rosie and Marie, were appreciated insofar as they related to Emmie.
Dear Emmie Blue is an important reminder that life is unpredictable, and that sometimes that’s the best thing about it. If everything stayed the same, there would be no way for things to get better. It’s a cheesy sentiment, sure, but true nevertheless. The only complaint I had about this book comes from the predictability of the ending, but I would argue that even this lends a certain charm—knowing how something ends doesn’t make the journey any less meaningful, right? I would recommend this book to anyone who needs a mental reset, or a reminder that there are sunnier days ahead.
Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.