Juliet the Maniac by Juliet Escoria || ARC Review

Date Published: May 7, 2019
Genre: Fiction
Number of Pages: 320

Synopsis

A shockingly dark, funny, and heartbreaking portrait of a young teenager’s clash with mental illness and her battle toward understanding and recovery.

Ambitious, talented 14-year-old honors student Juliet is poised for success at her Southern California high school. However, she soon finds herself on an increasingly frightening spiral of drug use, self-harm, and mental illness that lands her in a remote therapeutic boarding school, where she must ultimately find the inner strength, and determination, to survive.

Review

I am still slightly confused if this was a fiction novel or a non-fiction memoir. Is it something called Autofiction?? It’s noted as a fiction novel honing in on mental health.

To me, this wasn’t a memorable book — There were a lot of drugs, fighting with parents, and suicide attempts. It felt redundant. You could feel the story happening and honestly, I wasn’t surprised when her parents dropped her off at a school in the woods.

I feel bad for disliking Juliet the Maniac because it does fall into the strange auto fiction realm meaning that this is Juliet’s story with some artistic range. I feel bad rating someone else’s trauma and experiences? This is the first time that I feel weird about it.

Additionally for a book like this, you really shouldn’t judge the book by its cover. It’s not the warm, fuzzy young adult novel you would be expecting. I also don’t remember thinking this was a funny novel — Juliet’s story was just intense.

I’m rating Juliet the Maniac as a solid 2 out of 5 stars.

The Sky Alone for Us by Kristin Russell || Book Review

Date: January 8, 2019

Publisher: HarperCollins

Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary

Synopsis: In Strickland County, there isn’t a lot of anything to go around. But when eighteen-year-old Harlowe Compton’s brother is killed by the Praters—the family who controls everything, from the mines to the law—he wonders if the future will ever hold more than loss. Until he meets Tennessee Moore.

With Tennessee, Harlowe feels for the first time that something good might happen, that he might’ve found the rarest thing of all: hope. Even as she struggles with the worst of the cards she’s been dealt, Tennessee makes Harlowe believe that they can dare to forge their own path—if they only give it a shot.

But as Harlowe searches for the answers behind his brother’s death, his town’s decay, and his family’s dysfunction, he discovers truths about the people he loves—and himself—that are darker than he ever expected. Now, Harlowe realizes, there’s no turning back.

A powerful story of first love, poverty, and the grip of the opioid crisis in the rural South, Kristin Russell’s gorgeous debut novel asks a universal question: When hope seems lost, are dreams worth the risk?

Thoughts + Feelings: My thoughts about A Sky Alone for Us is complicated because Kristin Russell was attempting to tackle some very difficult issues: grief, the Opioid epidemic, police corruption. Like I said… complicated. For a young adult fiction novel, Russell tried to throw so many different issues into a 330ish page book and she wasn’t quite able to execute tackling these issues to the extent that she was hoping to hit.

The book opens with Harlowe Compton’s brothers murder on the front porch of their trailer. Immediately we’re thrown into the complex nature of small towns in rural Appalachia. We learn about the Prater’s and their control of the town, including the major source of work (mining) and the police force. No one wants to stomp on their toes or it’s possible that your family will be left without income, or worse.  

The most redeeming quality of A Sky Alone for Us was the support system that Harlowe had built around him in the wake of his mother’s drug addiction, his father’s absence and his brother’s death. His support system was built around the Draughn’s (family friends), but also the small-town members including the woman from the grocery store and his new neighbors, Tennessee and Omie. I have a hard time classifying this as a romance novel in any capacity, but there are small moments of friends, love and intimacy between Harlowe and Tennessee. This was another piece that seems thrown into the novel and didn’t quite work. 

Like my review, this book was all over the place. 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ (3/5 Stars; Average)

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han || Book Review

Release Date: May 26, 2015

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary

Synopsis: Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.
She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.
When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Timesbestseller To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, we see first love through the eyes of the unforgettable Lara Jean. Love is never easy, but maybe that’s part of what makes it so amazing.

Thoughts and Feelings: If you are looking for a fluffy, lovey-dovey young adult Sunday afternoon read while your boyfriend is watching football, you’ve found your book.

In the sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, we find ourselves back in the lives of Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky. However this time, we fully welcome to the story: John Ambrose McClaren. I think I’m in the minority, but I love John. I love how he writes Lara Jean back, even though its been months since the original letter was sent. Maybe its the romantic in me, but I love handwritten letters!

P.S. I Still Love You seemed to flow seamlessly from the first novel in the series which was quite incredible. It almost felt as if they were truly written as one novel and then split up to create two separate novels (and maybe the third book will be the same!!)

I also more than appreciate the fact that Lara Jean has taken her time to grow up. She is not trying to rush into adulthood. She values herself and her body — and she begins to stand up for herself. I love the juxtaposition of Lara Jean and her younger sister, Kitty. To see her grow as her younger sister grows shows the truly remarkable relationship between the Covey sisters.

Peter and Lara Jean are fine. They’re cute — It’s a lovely high school relationship. I look forward to seeing if they last in book #3 (I’m still rooting for McClaren 😉 )

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han || Book Review

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Release date: April 15, 2014

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult


Premise: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.


Thoughts + Feelings: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. I think this book struck a piece deep in my heart because I remember the feeling of a boy finding out that I liked him. I remember how embarrassing was it was to show up at school and have to talk to him. If I could use one word to describe this book it would be: cute. I knew when I picked it up from the library that I wasn’t going to be blown away from the literary magnificence of it. I added it to my holds list because I thought the Netflix adaptation was adorable – what else was I to expect from the book?

Truth be told, I enjoyed the book more than the movie. While they were each different and special in their own way, I liked the way that Lara Jean developed in the novel more. Without giving spoilers away about them both – what I liked about the movie was how it was tied together. You know how the letters get out from the beginning; you see how Lara Jean, Kitty and Margot interact with each other in real life. I felt that in the novel, the Song sisters were not as close as they were portrayed in the movie. Maybe it’s just a difference in seeing versus visualizing.

I liked this book. It’s your average romantic young adult book. It felt like putting on warm pajamas when they come straight from the dryer. It was natural and relaxing to read. I’m going to read the next two books in the series because I want the same warm, fuzzy feelings.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

ARC Review: Outrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi

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Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of Outrun the Wind.

Release date: November 27, 2018

Publisher: Flux

Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult

Premise: The Huntresses of Artemis must obey two rules: never disobey the goddess, and never fall in love. After being rescued from a harrowing life as an Oracle of Delphi, Kahina is glad to be a part of the Hunt; living among a group of female warriors gives her a chance to reclaim her strength, even while her prophetic powers linger. But when a routine mission goes awry, Kahina breaks the first rule in order to save the legendary huntress Atalanta.

To earn back Artemis’s favor, Kahina must complete a dangerous task in the kingdom of Arkadia— where the king’s daughter is revealed to be none other than Atalanta. Still reeling from her disastrous quest and her father’s insistence on marriage, Atalanta isn’t sure what to make of Kahina. As her connection to Atalanta deepens, Kahina finds herself in danger of breaking Artemis’ second rule.

She helps Atalanta devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage, and word spreads throughout Greece, attracting suitors willing to tempt fate to go up against Atalanta in a race for her hand. But when the men responsible for both the girls’ dark pasts arrive, the game turns deadly.

Thoughts + Feelings: As a reader who knows very little (okay nothing) about Greek Mythology, I found the beginning part of this book to be challenging as I felt that I needed to know a lot of background information. I took it upon myself to do a bit of basic research into mythology to at least try to better understand the characters and where they came from. As a new reader into this topic, I wasn’t sure if these were pre-established characters from former pieces OR if they were brand-spanking new into the Greek world. As it turns out, Elizabeth Tammi writes an authors note in the end of the novel explaining many of the first and last questions that I had about a fantasy Greek mythological novel (how exciting!!)

Other than the beginning frustration of not knowing enough about Greek mythology to grasp the book, I really enjoyed the story of Atalanta and Kahina. The writing style was easy-going, but sometimes a challenge to follow. In the beginning there was a huge distinction between characters voices; however, somewhere around the middle Kahina and Atalanta’s voices started to become intertwined and I had to flip back several pages to figure out who was speaking. It’s a possibility that this was on purpose, but nonetheless it happened.

I loved the bad-ass driven women of Outrun the Wind. In a male dominated world, these characters are so strong and distinguished. There is Artemis, Atalanta, Kahina, Isidora and Nikoleta. They’re powerful and honest – they create this feeling of sisterhood. Each is special and unique in their own way and as the reader you root for them to succeed.

“But nobody can beat fate – not even her. Nobody can outrun the wind.”

While the female/female romance is in the book, it is not an overwhelming feature. There is a fair share of friendships, trust, love and honesty throughout Outrun the Wind.

This is Elizabeth Tammi’s debut novel and I am hooked as a fan. Due to her crafty writing, I will be delving more into the fantasy novel world and I look forward to seeing what she publishes next.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Book Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Release date: March 28, 2017

Publisher: HarperTeen

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult

Premise: You probably think that Aled Last and I are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and I am a girl.

I just wanted to say—we don’t.

Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying. When she’s not studying, she’s up in her room making fan art for her favorite podcast, Universe City.

Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As. But no one knows he’s the creator of Universe City, who goes by the name Radio Silence.

When Frances gets a message from Radio Silence asking if she’ll collaborate with him, everything changes. Frances and Aled spend an entire summer working together and becoming best friends. They get each other when no one else does.

But when Aled’s identity as Radio Silence is revealed, Frances fears that the future of Universe City—and their friendship—is at risk. Aled helped her find her voice. Without him, will she have the courage to show the world who she really is? Or will she be met with radio silence?

Thoughts + Feelings: I’ve started doing this thing where I don’t read the summary of books before I pick them up to read them. I honestly found Radio Silence at the library because I thought the cover was really pretty. Luckily, I picked a winner when I found this beautiful novel by Alice Oseman.

There is something special about how Radio Silence was written. It touches on so many issues that many young adult books (and other contemporary novels) won’t go anywhere near.

True Diversity

The first aspect that I loved about Radio Silence was how there was no cookie-cutter characters. In a once quiet world where being diverse was bad, Alice Oseman brought forward sexual identities that I had to go research because I had zero understanding of what they were. She brought in immigrants, locals, bi-racial individuals to show us that it is possible to live a life where there is diversity around you.

  • Frances is biracial (British + Ethiopian) and bisexual
  • Aled is demisexual
  • Daniel is gay and a South Korean immigrant
  • Carys is a lesbian

Platonic Friendship

The relationship between Frances and Aled was beautiful. We read so many books where the only type of relationship is romantic, and platonic friendship doesn’t exist. (At least that’s the kind of books that I’ve read). I felt at ease reading about Aled and Frances, as they discovered how similar they were through their interest in strange clothing and Universe City. 

“And I’m platonically in love with you.”
“That was literally the boy-girl version of ‘no homo’, but I appreciate the sentiment.”

They shared the type of friendship you look for in the people around you. The friend that will help you find your voice – the friend who will look after you in the bar. It’s the person who understands what you want and need in every day life.

Education

We live in a world where there is so much pressure on young people to graduate from high school and go straight into university. You need to graduate in 4 (+/- 1) years and get a full-time job. Maybe you’ll go straight to law school or medical school. In our society, it is expected that you’ll get a degree that is useful to a career. In my own little world, there was never an option to go a different route (not that I had ever considered not going to college — but you see, it was an expectation). I went to university and graduated in three and a half years with 2 degrees. I worked for six months until I started graduate school and then… I fell into a weird abyss for a while. This was my first step away from the expectations of society. And for the first half of the year, it felt awful. I felt like I was letting myself down and that was I wasn’t living up to my own expectations (aka the expectations put on me by society). But once I adjusted to working 3-4 jobs on a regular basis and corrected my thinking to realize that everyone has different paths in life, I became happy (and tired) with my life.

“I was going to be happy. Wasn’t I? I was. Uni, job, money, happiness. That’s what you do. That’s the formula. Everyone knows that. I knew that.”

Radio Silence served as a reminder that you have choices in your own every day life, and those are the choices that you have to live with. It’s okay to not be entirely sure what you want to do with your entire life, but you have to find things you love and stick with them. It’s okay to say no to people and figure out your own life.

This book made me feel good… after it beat me down. Sometimes it is hard to take a look at your own reality and leave all the other B.S. out of it. Forget about the internet, about twitter and Reddit. Remember to take a look at your own life and preferences before attacking someone else – be good to others and remember that we’re all just human.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

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Release date: March 3, 2005

Publisher: Speak

Genre: Fiction / Young Adult


Premise: 
Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .
After.  Nothing is ever the same.


Thoughts + Feelings: My first ever re-read. The first time I read Looking For Alaska must have been in the middle of high school before I stopped reading for fun. When I started it last week, I had no real memory of what it was about – All I knew was that for some reason it stuck in my heart that I loved this book. Fast forward to now… It could be the difference of reading this Young Adult novel as a 16 year old vs reading it as a 24 year old, but I didn’t love it as much as I remembered.

Pudge Halter isn’t a great guy; neither is his roommate the Colonel or Alaska Young, the main interest of the book. As I’ve mentioned before, I drawn in by influential quotes. I have a feeling that I loved the same quotes today as I did 8+ years ago. The biggest difference is that now I look for more in a book than a good, solid quote.

Looking for Alaska, while not as incredible as I remembered, will continue to be one of my favorite books. I appreciated it’s discussion of grief and how different people treat grief in different ways. In a tight-knit community like Culver Creek you are going to know all of your classmates. Even if you do not live on campus all semester long (i.e. the weekday warriors), you are going to know the people you go to school with. Pudge experiences grief differently than the Colonel or Lara or the weekday warriors – and that’s something that resonates into every day life. I like to read books that impact my daily life and how I look at the world. This is a book that I can learn from and help to teach others how to tolerate the behaviors of those in our communities. Not everyone is the same. We look different, feel different and may speak differently, but these characteristics do not take away from who we are as human beings.

There is also the discussion of the labyrinth. The quotes about the labyrinth have always been my favorite. Especially the one below.

“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”

I am sometimes a guilty party in trying to imagine ways to escape the present. Sometimes my imagination gets the best of me and I waste entire days pretending that the tasks in front of me don’t exist (hellllllo procrastination). I think most of us are somewhat guilty of this action. But I think this says something about being in the present – let’s forget our phones and the social media; how about we make eye contact with our friends at dinner and not focus on our little screens.

Looking for Alaska is a book full of mystery, and I am thankful to John Green for creating this little world. The book is broken down into Before and After, but nowhere can you really figure out what “before” he is talking about. Before is included in each of the section headings and you wonder what are we counting down to; what could be so important that we need to know all of these days before. And then it hits you in the gut. You may shed a few tears and curse John Green for breaking your heart, but then you learn about grief through the characters’ development and you learn how to feel your feelings in a constructive way.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Recommend? Read it + love it. It’s as simple as that. If you love it the first time, don’t re-read it because you don’t want any of that love to slip away. I developed a new appreciation in reading Looking for Alaska a second time. I’m looking forward to reading Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars, and An Abundance of Katherines again.

I want to leave you all with this question: What is the best way to go about being a person? What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it? How are you going to escape the labyrinth?

Book Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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Release date: October 11, 2017

Publisher: Penguin

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult

Premise: It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward. Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.


Thoughts + Feelings: I was really looking forward to Turtles All the Way Down. In fact, it was the book I chose for the Around the Year in 52 Books Challenge topic: A book you have high expectations or hope for. My expectations for this book were a little too high, especially in comparison to some of the other John Green novels that I have read.

I knew that this book was going to be about a mental illness, but I wasn’t sure how the topic would be handled. I loved Aza Holmes and her mind. I understood Aza and the tightening spirals of never-ending thoughts. There are days when I find myself spiraling – Days when I can’t control my thoughts and they overpower me. In no way do I show the symptoms as severely as Aza (I am able to bring myself back into control), but I empathize with people who suffer this greatly.

There was something different about this John Green novel that I just can’t place my finger on, but I didn’t like it as much. Maybe there wasn’t as much mystery, but in the beginning it looked like it was going to be a cute romance. It wasn’t. This novel had a scientific background which I really liked (shout out to C. diff!!) Obviously this ties back to my fun masters program in emerging infectious disease… Clostridium difficile is a scary scary microbe that you don’t want to flourish in your body. Aza was correct in that we all carry it in our microbiomes.

The scientist in me loved the descriptions of how the bacteria from Davis’ mouth becomes a permanent part of Aza’s microbiome after they kiss. I loved it – I honestly chuckled because sometimes you just have to laugh at the absurd thoughts that get stuck in our minds.

“But you give you thoughts too much power, Aza. Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You do belong to yourself, even when your thoughts don’t.”

I am a huge sucker for quotes, especially those written by John Green. I was surprised to find myself not connecting with his words in the way that I have in the past. It’s hard for me to classify this as a ‘young adult fiction’ book because of the language used. Young adults typically do not know about C. diff, or about microbiomes. It seems like this was more aimed towards older young adults (if that makes sense), but even so it didn’t connect.

I would’ve liked to see more of an ending to this story. It didn’t necessarily seem random, but I was let down.


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Recommend? This was a good book about mental illness. It showed that there is not always a way to classify what is going on in someone’s head. It also speaks wonders about a disease that we can’t see. We can’t see that Aza is sick because the thoughts are in her head. This is a book that I would recommend to a friend, but with the warning that they may be disappointed if you compare it to Green’s previous novels.

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Hate U Give

Release date: February 28, 2017

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult


Premise: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.



Thoughts + Feelings:  This book hits you with every possible emotion. I cried on the metro, got angry at the ballpark and laughed on my couch. This was an incredibly powerful book.

Starr Carter’s character was so well-written. Angie Thomas was able to portray the extreme duality that a young woman would have to go through in her life if when she is torn between two very different environments. Starr describes herself as the Starr at Williamson and Starr in Garden Heights. She talks about the way she has to dress around her “other” friends and how she changes the way she speaks when she’s in Garden Heights vs her time at school. It became interesting to me during her car ride with DeVante, Seven, and Chris. Chris asks a question about the ‘normalness’ of the black people’s names.

“Anyway Chris,” Seven says, “DeVante’s got a point. What makes his name or our names any less normal than yours? Who or what defines ‘normal’ to you? If my pops were here, he’d say you’ve fallen into the trap of the white standard.”

BOOM. White Standard. I was thrown by Seven’s response to Chris’ question merely because I have felt like Chris before. I’ve wanted to ask questions but I’ve never known the way to approach my questions that may come across as ‘socially/racially unjust.’ I’ve never wanted to offend anyone – but I can imagine how hard it is for Chris to ask his question, but I can also feel the strain that Seven, DeVante and Starr have when answering the question.

I felt my white privilege showing while I was reading The Hate U Give. I was embarrassed by the actions of the police officer. Starr and Khalil were just kids. They were sitting in the car hanging out and one of them gets shot and killed. They were just kids. I don’t ever feel afraid when I see a police officer driving behind me. That is my white privilege. I do not have to change the way I speak or dress in situations so that I am not judged or stereotyped. That is my white privilege.

My heart broke for Starr when I read her identity struggles. As a sixteen year old girl, how are you supposed to focus on being the best version of yourself when the best version of yourself is different in your daily life. This is a book about race. There is no doubt about it. It was painful to read about the reality that other people face on a daily basis – old people, young people, wealthy, poor, African American, Chinese. I recognize that these biases occur throughout the world on a daily and regular basis.

Prepare yourself to be uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable reading it. I was uncomfortable carrying it around because I felt like someone was going to judge me. But that’s life. There were many moments throughout the book that I had to stop and think about my actions and words that I’ve said to my friends – Did I come across as racist or insensitive? I’ve seen reviews that call this book anti-white and reviews that do not acknowledge how the Carter family discusses white people. I do not think that this is an anti-white book. Angie Thomas has forced me to think outside of my little bubble; to put myself in someone else’s shoes that doesn’t have white skin. Is that uncomfortable somethings? Absolutely, but by reading and talking about this book, we can make the world a better and more understanding safe space for everyone.

I don’t want to go into any more specifics of the story-line because I think it’s important that everyone reads this book. I flew through Starr’s story, but it’s only one of many like it. This was a work of fiction, brought on by the real life happenings of police brutality and killings of unarmed children in the United States. We can do better. We must do better.

The quotes that punched me in the gut:

“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”

“At an early age I learned that people make mistakes, and you have to decide if their mistakes are bigger than your love for them.”

“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Recommend? In today’s society, this is a book that we all need to read. We hear about police shootings every week. We hear and see bias against people who look different than us. We cross to the other side of the street when we see someone who we stereotype as threatening. This is a book we can all learn from, whether or not you are ready to acknowledges your own personal weaknesses. I’ve seen comments that this is now a required reading in high school – I don’t know if that’s true or not because I’m way out of high school, but I think it’s a good point in the student’s lives to read this and learn from it.