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BOOK REVIEWS &
RECOMMENDATIONS
 
with Abby Kernya IG @abbigalekernya@abbigalespages

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

by Stephen Chobosky (1999)

Genre: Novel, Young Adult Fiction, Epistolary Novel

Recommended Age: 14+ readers

Rating Scale

Educational value: ​​ 3/5

Positive message: 3.5/5

Positive role models: 2/5

Violence: 5/5

Sex: 5/5

Language: 4/5

Drinking, drugs, smoking: 5/5

Consumerism:​ 1/5

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So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.”

― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

    The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a novel everyone needs to read at least once in their life. I was lucky enough to find this story when I was lost trying to navigate the complexities of highschool, and it helped ease the isolation so many of us felt in our youth. With the arrival of autumn and winter following in pursuit, seasonal depression often torments many of us and we find ourselves searching for something in the darkness to feel less alone.

 

To me, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is, and has always been, that something. It is a piece of familiarity within everything uncertain.

 

Where do you go when you don’t quite fit? How does one become a wallflower? This classic coming-of-age story follows Charlie as he navigates his loneliness and discovers what it means to be alive and what it means to be a wallflower; to be still as you watch the world go by without you. I first discovered Charlie when I was entering adulthood as a young and lost student. When I picked up this book during all the chaos, I was immediately captivated by Charlie. Stephen Chobosky perfectly captures how it feels to discover who you are, while also losing every sense of who you thought you were. He tells Charlie’s story through letters addressed to an anonymous friend. Through these letters, we uncover the trials and tribulations of first love, mental health, self-discovery, and rock bottom. 

 

    The simplicity of the writing conveys a tender tragedy familiar to those of us who see things, and understand. As Charlie copes with the haunting loneliness after losing his best friend to suicide, he falls in with the ‘misfits’ of his highschool. Each character in this story brings their own unique perspective on growing up. From self-love, finding your voice, running from shame, and learning love is more than just heartbreak, Charlie takes the readers on a silent adventure through his eyes as a quiet wallflower in a very loud world. 

 

Some of the best things are unexpected, and some of the worst things have no reason. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes good people choose the wrong people to love. Sometimes we hide who we are, and sometimes we don’t know how to stop thinking about everything all the time. Sometimes, we all need a little bit of Charlie to make us feel less alone. 

 

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” 

― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

 

A HISTORY OF MY BRIEF BODY

by Billy-Ray Belcourt (2020)

Genre: Autobiography, Essay

Recommended Age: 15+ readers

Rating Scale

Educational value: ​​ 5/5

Positive message: 3/5

Positive role models: 3/5

Violence: 5/5

Sex: 5/5

Language: 4/5

Drinking, drugs, smoking: 4/5

Consumerism:​ 3/5

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“Let's start with the body, for so much is lost and lost and lost there."

- Billy-Ray Belcourt, A History of My Brief Body

Belcourt dissects what it means for him to be a queer indigenous writer in a country built on the elimination of indigenous peoples. It is raw, rotten, and embedded with grief strong enough to survive generations - grief that has been forced to survive under the boot of this country. But A History of My Brief Body is also painstakingly beautiful. Emphasize the pain and beauty, for they are two very different themes intertwined in this timeless piece of literature. This memoir explores a lived experience as a queer Indigenous person living within a country that refuses to truly reconcile with its past.

Where do you go when the world becomes hollow? How do you find your way back when you can't describe what you're running from?

 

Belcourt writes about how his queerness and identity have become his target, muse, and agony as he exists within a country caged around him. This memoir tells a story of a boy turned man, turned human, turned fetish, turned battlefield. Belcourt’s pure and raw accounts of the vulnerability of words woven between pain and existence take readers on a journey that stains any pre-existing notion they had of Indigenous existence. Belcourt writes about the beauty of identity and loving without restrictions, but also the fear and violence that follows in a country built on lies. He shares how isolating it is to be an outsider in your own home, and how frightening it is to feel your own loneliness.

“I didn’t know what to do with my agony, so I did what most do with the unknown and menacing: I waged a war on it”

-Belcourt

It is my firm and undying belief that Belcourt is a one-of-a-kind writer. His raw poetic talent transcribes into a seemingly effortless image of staring at something beautiful while fighting the urge to collapse in front of it. A History of My Brief Body is a capsule of art, poetry, clarity and grief that will no doubt change the course of readers’ lives - it certainly has reshaped mine. If you are looking for a read that highlights Canada’s true treatment of Indigenous peoples, a protest of restricted love, and one writer’s take on the human condition, then I highly recommend A History of My Brief Body.

Solitaire

by Alice Oseman (2014)

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Recommended Age: 15+ readers

Rating Scale

Educational value: ​​ 3.5/5

Positive message: 4/5

Positive role models: 3/5

Violence: 2/5

Sex: 1/5

Language: 3/5

Drinking, drugs, smoking: 2/5

Consumerism:​ 2/5

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“All the people are chatting and laughing and smiling, and it sort of makes me feel a bit sad, like I'm watching them through a dirty window."

- Alice Oseman, Solitaire

Solitaire follows the life of sixteen-year-old Tori Spring. Tori is not your average sixteen-year-old, she struggles to make friends, hold conversations, and find a way to exist outside of her head. Alice Oseman’s first novel paints the world through the eyes of a cynical diet-lemonade-addicted blogger as she navigates her way through high school and family. This is the sort of novel you wish you had when you were younger, the sort of novel that makes you feel less alone in the constant struggle to understand yourself. Tori is a character that we can all relate to in a way: she hates stupid people, hates meaningless conversations, and HATES Michael Holden. 

 

But, this is not a love story.

 

Tori is in a new school year, but nothing goes as planned. With an unexpected childhood friend showing up, a new student named Michael with ridiculous glasses, and a secret group called “Solitaire” wreaking havoc on what was supposed to be a normal school year. Tori is now forced to step out of her comfort zone and adapt to these unforeseen events that just don’t seem to be leaving her alone. 

 

Solitaire tells a story that is not easy. One that deals with growing up, mental health, and finding peace within the parts of yourself you don’t understand. Alice Oseman shares how safe it is to live life as if other people are the problem and how to find yourself in a world where you don’t quite fit in. It is witty, heartwrenching, and unexpected. It will stick with you days after finishing it, perhaps you’ll even return back to the mind of Tori Spring and catch everything you missed in the surprise mystery of the “Solitaire” chaos. This is a fictional story that feels so real you can almost touch it. Alice Oseman wholeheartedly conveys how devastating it can be to exist within the world completely alone, and how it is even more difficult to let someone in. If you are looking for a read to comfort your younger self or a mystery to lose yourself in, then I highly recommend Solitaire. 

 

“We’re so used to disaster that we accept it. We think we deserve it.”

GRIEF IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS

by Max Porter (2015)

Genre: Literary Fiction

Recommended Age:  13+ readers

Rating Scale

Educational value: ​​ 5/5

Positive message:5/5

Positive role models: 4/5

Violence: 2/5

Sex: 3/5

Language: 1/5

Drinking, drugs, smoking: 2/5

Consumerism:​ 0/5

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“Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.” 

Max Porter, Grief Is The Thing With Feathers 

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, by Max Porter, is a short novel following a father and his sons after the sudden death of their mother. In their sadness, they are visited by a witty crow. Fascinated with human grief, the nameless crow follows along the waters of pain as a mentor of grief. There is so much in this novel to unpack, and so much to connect with. Max Porter writes the most beautiful journey of grief without sugarcoating the raw ugliness of losing a loved one. We follow this healing process through the commentary of the sons, father, and the crow, all reflecting on the grief that haunts their London apartment. Sometimes comical, sometimes made up, most of the time sad; the visiting crow guides this broken family through the torrential rain following the aftermath of death. 

 

This story does not focus on the nature of the mother's death, but rather the love she left behind. The crow watches the family as they grieve, it comforts them and makes them laugh even when the young boys don’t understand why. Grief Is The Thing With Feathers is truly a remarkable telling of pain. Breathtaking prose, heart-wrenching confessions, and the vulnerability of grief in every colour. This is not a story to pull you in and captivate you in its plot, it is rather a fictional story that is real for so many people. It is a hungry novel, hungry for its readers to insert themselves in a story we are all too familiar with - a loss we are all too familiar with. 

 

Not everyone who loses someone is granted a talking crow, but sometimes we all wished we had. The most important part of this story is the absence and presence of the crow. Grief stays with us, it stains our lives and haunts our dreams. Yet some days are easier than others, and some days we don't need a crow to hold our hand through it all. Grief Is The Thing With Feathers gives us that crow if we need it, and that is why this novel is so uniquely special. 

 

“Grieving is something you’re still doing, and something you don’t need a crow for.” – Max Porter

THE SECRET HISTORY

by Donna Tartt (1992)

Genre: Fiction, Psychological Fiction, Mystery

Recommended Age:  15+ readers

Rating Scale

Educational value: ​​ 1/5

Positive message: ​0/5

Positive role models: ​0/5

Violence: 5/5

Sex: 3/5

Language:​3/5

Drinking, drugs, smoking:​5/5

Consumerism:​ 2/5

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“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely?”

- Donna Tartt, The Secret History 

The Secret History by Donna Tart is a filthy novel with filthy characters. This story takes place with the murder of the egocentric and flamboyant Bunny: a college elitist involved in a secret society of Greek and Classics students. The culprit? That’s the secret. Set in Hampden College in New England, the narration follows the unreliable mind of Richard Papen: a Californian student who finds himself in the centre of a cult-like clique with no way out. The twins: Camilla and Charles, Bunny, Francis, and Henry - the psychopathic ringleader with a thirst for divine enlightenment at any means necessary.

 

A mystery that will have dark academia lovers foaming at the mouth.

Characters created for those drawn to bloodied beauties.

And a murder committed with beautiful lips kissing stained hands. 

 

This is not a book for the kind-hearted. This is a book for those willing to search the ends of the earth for a glimpse of the gods - even if it means damnation.

 

Academic elitists brought together by the same compulsive desire to understand life through death...what more could you ask for? Donna Tart is a modern author with words as philosophical and daunting as the classics. Her barbaric prose will have you questioning just how far you’ll go to escape retribution, even when it takes a sacrifice of matter. Tartt created unlovable characters you will find yourself drawn to in the worst possible ways. This book had me captivated for months after I finished it. There was so much to digest - so much to try and forget. It explores the shadowed reality of elitism, loneliness, and the loss of control. The Secret History is perhaps my favourite novel of all time. I have never read a book with the same glorious words to describe hideous people, and perhaps I never will. I am a firm believer this book is one of a kind, that is the pure beauty of it. If you are looking for a read that will plunge you into madness, mysteries, Greek gods, and murder, then I cannot recommend The Secret History enough.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

By Oscar Wilde (1890)

Genre: Gothic fiction, Psychological Fiction, Philosophical fiction, Didactic fiction

Recommended Age:  13+ readers

Rating Scale

Educational value: 5/5

Positive message: 3/5

Positive role models:​ 2/5

Violence:​ 1/5

Sex:  2/5

Language:​ 1/5

Drinking, drugs, smoking:​ 4/5

Consumerism:​ 0/5

“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde has undoubtedly evolved to become one of the most famous classic authors to date.The Picture of Dorian Gray is a cautionary tale that transcends time itself. Written in 1890, this piece of gothic horror follows the fast decline from beauty to madness. Written by one of the greatest writers of the nineteenth century, this novel takes readers on a journey through the eyes of the judge, jury, and executioner. One that connects the dots between a youthful first love and ripening horrors. 

 

Dorian Gray is a simple, youthful, optimistic, and unworldly gorgeous man in upper-class London. After his dear friend Basil paints a portrait perfectly capturing Dorian’s innocence, his world slowly grows demonic. Lord Henry Wotton, a rich man with a stone heart and rotten ego, convinces Dorian that life is nothing without beauty. Worried that his godlike good looks will fade, Dorian wishes his portrait should age so long as he does not. 


Imprisoned by his obsession with the ever-changing portrait, Dorian falls down a spiral of self-indulgence and greed. Oscar Wilde perfectly paints the fine line that exists between beauty and tragedy. Driven into madness, the once-innocent boy now struggles with the fear of his sins finding their way back to him. In a world so corrupted by greed and filth, Dorian faces the question: Is there life without beauty? Is beauty a mirror of morality? This renaissance concept is explored with vulnerability in this century-old story that still stands today. With the light of Basil and the darkness of Lord Henry, Dorian must decide for himself if his beauty is enough before it's too late. After all, a beautiful monster is still a monster. If you are on the hunt for a read both philosophical and adventurous,The Picture of Dorian Gray, in all its desire, might be for you.

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by Leigh Bardugo

Babel

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My Policeman

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Nightbitch

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