Book Review

Montreal Young Adult Book Festival

Montreal is a city that never sleeps. This city is filled with bright lights and noise from festivals, concerts, new restaurants and fun activities. However, one thing that Montrealers do not get to experience are book festivals…until now!

Montreal’s first young adult (YA) book festival was held in the Jewish Public Library on May 27th, 2018. The day was dedicated to book lovers of all ages who enjoy reading YA books.

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The day kicked off with readers getting a goodie bag from the generous committee behind the festival. Each person received a MTL YA Festival tote bag, a program, a pin and a sampler booklet with the first chapters of four YA books. There was also a table filled with books for sale supplied by Babar Books. Needless to say, all the bookworms gravitated towards that general area many times during the day.

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Authors Everywhere:

For a bookworm, seeing an author is like seeing a celebrity. I will not deny that I was a bit star struck. This event allowed us to interact with the authors as they discussed their writing process and important themes tackled in their books. There were several panels and the hardest part for me was picking which one to attend, as they all seemed so interesting.

Tough Stuff: Islamophobia, Racism, Bullying and more.

The authors speaking in this panel:

Nic Stone – Dear Martin

Samira Ahmed – Love, Hate & Other Filters

Brendan Kiely – The Last True Love Story

Monique Polak – What World is Left

E.K. Johnston – Spindle

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When I was a teenager, YA books rarely discussed the “tough stuff”. Islamophobia was non-existent in YA books. I rarely ever read anything on racism or sexual assault. All this has changed over the years as brave authors have stepped forward to share stories that need to be read and that can get conversations started on what many people may find uncomfortable or controversial. Samira Ahmed discussed what it is like to live in a world riddled with Islamophobia. E.K. Johnston discussed rape culture, while Monique Polak discussed domestic abuse. Nic Stone discussed racism and racial profiling. Together, these authors shared their personal experiences and how the writing process can be therapeutic as these stories needed to be shared through their writing. I was truly inspired and captivated by their conversations. These authors had everyone’s undivided attention as they spoke so eloquently about their own emotions as they write about this difficult subject matter.

New on the Scene: Authors with a book or two under their belts talk about breaking into writing.

This panel included:

Nic Stone – Dear Martin

Gloria Chao – American Panda

S.M. Beiko – Scion of the Fox

J.F. Dubeau – A God in the Shed

Looking around the room as the authors were speaking, I noticed many teenagers eagerly listening to the writing advice while taking notes in their notepads. In a world where the new generation is often portrayed as kids who are glued to their screens, it is great to see many who have a genuine love of reading and interest in becoming writers. The advice handed down by these incredible authors was both helpful and realistic. They did not shy away from talking about the struggles of breaking into the writing world and of continuing writing as a career. Most importantly, what they offered was motivation to keep on writing and ways to work around the negative thoughts that can cause writers block or make us give up on our writing.

Keynote Speaker Nic Stone:

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Nic Stone, the author of New York Times bestselling novel Dear Martin was one of the authors in the panels and was the keynote speaker of the day. Nic discussed writing about social injustices that needed to be shared with the world. I have never met an author who grabs your attention, makes you laugh and delivers such powerful messages all in one speech. Nic Stone definitely has a gift for words and for giving advice. She explored the ideas of reason, humility, investigative savvy, nuances, optimism and self-care while writing your story. The room was full of smiles, laughter and genuine awe after such a wonderful speech.

Book signings:

Of course no book festival would be complete without a book signing. These authors were so interactive during the signings and spent a good amount of time with each person discussing their book and giving personalized messages to each reader.

Samira Ahmed and I had a wonderful conversation about growing up with barely any brown/muslim characters in the books we read. It is refreshing to finally read more and more YA books with diverse characters. I really appreciated this conversation with such a kind author.

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Side note: I believe I have convinced Nic Stone to adopt the Canadian way of saying “Zed”. Ditch the “Zee” folks!

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I would like to thank the director of the Children’s Department of the Jewish Public Library and the founder of this year’s Montreal Ya Festival Talya Pardo for putting together such an incredible event with her committee. Thank you for bringing together this community as we shared our love of books together. I hope this is the start to many more book festivals in Montreal.

Happy Reading!

 

 

Book Review

Author Spotlight: Khaled Hosseini

Is there a particular author who writes books that make you weep into your pillow? Do you mentally prepare yourself for the emotional roller coaster you will be experiencing when you read his or her books? Does this author write so beautifully that you feel incapable of picking up another book after reading their work? Have you been emotionally destroyed by this author?

Hands up if you answered Khaled Hosseini to all of the above questions!

Author Spotlight: Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini’s books are perfect for book clubs as there are many themes that are explored in his stories. Afghani culture, feminism, oppression, family, marriage and friendships are just a few of the themes that Hosseini explores through expert storytelling. You will feel every emotion while you read his books. You will feel the character’s guilt, longing, sadness, anger and most importantly, love. You will feel the heartache of a mother, the guilt of an old friend, the loneliness of a wife and the hope of a child.

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The Kite Runner:

“For you, a thousand times over.”

The Kite Runner was the first book I read by Hosseini and it shook me to my core. The story is set in Kabul and revolves around the childhood friendship of Amir and the son of his father’s servant, Hassan. At a young age, they were each other’s confidants, but all that changes when Amir witnesses a brutal act of violence against Hassan by their local bully and does not intervene. Riddled with guilt, Amir keeps his distance from his childhood friend and builds a life far away from him and the memory of what took place. Years later, Amir has to face the consequences of his actions, and inactions. The biggest themes in this book are friendship, father-son relationships, guilt and redemption. There were parts of this book that really broke my heart and a couple of scenes that were hard to read. However, it was important to read as well. As tough as it is to read about violent acts, it helps us remember that these acts occur beyond the pages of the book in real life. The Kite Runner was written with a lot of heart and I highly recommend it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns:

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”

I remember being in a daze from being emotionally destroyed by this book. A Thousand Splendid Suns is my absolute favorite Khaled Hosseini book. The story revolves around two Afghan women, Laila and Mariam, from different generations brought together by war and loss. Mariam is the illegitimate child of Jalil, a wealthy businessman. When her mother commits suicide, Jalil marries Mariam off to a much older and abusive man. For years, Mariam becomes pregnant but cannot carry the baby to term. Her husband, Rasheed, becomes violent as their childless years pass by. Laila is a girl who is in love with her childhood friend Tariq. When a rocket destroys Laila’s home and kills her parents, Rasheed and Mariam take her into their home. Rasheed is eager to have a second young wife who can give him children, and convinces her to marry him after news that Tariq was also killed. These two women form an unbreakable bond in what seems to be a hopeless life filled with violence and sadness. I was rooting for Mariam and Laila throughout the book. The biggest themes in this book are motherhood, friendship, family and women in Afghanistan. The reason why this book is my favorite is because of the relationship between Mariam and Laila. While they start off as being rivals, their relationship develops into friendship and ultimately into a mother-daughter bond. This is a beautifully written book that really pulls at your heartstrings.

And the Mountains Echoed

“I now know that some people feel unhappiness the way others love: privately, intensely, and without recourse.”

This book is filled with complex characters across generations and continents. Every character has a tragic backstory that interweaves into a novel filled with hardship and lost love. The story begins with a poor farmer who sells his infant daughter to a childless couple in Kabul. We then follow the story of this little girl’s heartbroken brother, who raised her when their mother died. We also follow the story of the children’s stepmother and her own backstory filled with betrayal and guilt. Each story explored different emotions and the outcomes really surprised me, especially the ending.

Why you should read these books:
Khaled Hosseini’s books will take you on an emotional journey, and while some people may not want to read sad books, his books are so much more than sad. There is always a glimmer of hope in every one of his books, despite the tragedy and loss experienced by the characters. You will also learn about the historical, political and cultural aspects of Afghanistan. There is nothing I love more than learning new things while reading books. Khaled will be releasing his new book  “Sea Prayer” on September 18th. This book will shed light on the struggles of refugees who are forced from their homes by war. Mark your calendars!

Book Review

Book Review – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

What makes a book exceptionally good you ask? – An unforgettable character!
Meet Eleanor Oliphant, a 29-year-old woman who thinks she is completely fine. Except, she really isn’t. And to be honest, neither was I by the end of this remarkable book.

Facts about Eleanor:
Eleanor has a nine-to-five job that offers very little mental stimulation
Eleanor lives alone and has no friends.
Every Wednesday, Eleanor’s institutionalized mother calls her for a life update.
Every Friday night, Eleanor buys pizza and two bottles of vodka for the weekend.
People find Eleanor strange, but other people’s behaviour is strange to her.
Eleanor survived a traumatic experience at a very young age and has the scars to remind her of it everyday.

What makes this book so captivating is our quirky Eleanor. She was fine living in her perfectly scheduled, controlled and isolated life until she sets her eyes on someone she declares is her soul mate. This sets the path for a hilarious journey as she tries to integrate herself into society and it’s norms. You join her as she discovers the woes of waxing, makeup, shopping and more complex human interactions.

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Themes:
Mental illness is a big theme in this book, but it was presented in a way that I have never read before. The story was funny but also sad when you get to the root of Eleanor’s issues. Her good days will make you smile, but her bad days will make your heart ache. Her socially inept ways will make you laugh out loud, but the scorn she receives from others will break your heart. Her worst days are a glimpse of how darkness can consume a person and make them feel utterly alone.

Secondary characters:
While Eleanor steals the show, there are two secondary characters that leave a lasting impression.

– Raymond, an IT tech working in Eleanor’s office begins interacting with her. While at first Eleanor uses her time with Raymond as an exercise in social interactions, it does develop into an undeniable friendship. What I loved about their relationship is that it was not a love story like many would expect. She does not heal due to a new love in her life. Instead, she finds valuable support and uses her own strength to overcome issues she had swept under the rug for years following her trauma.

– Sammy is an elderly man who falls on the sidewalk and Eleanor and Raymond save him. This character is so colorful and full of life. The positivity he projects has an impact on Eleanor in ways she would have never imagined. The three of them become unlikely friends and help each other through their hardships.

My thoughts:
This book completely surprised me. I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did and I was happy to learn that it will be made into a movie very soon. I cannot wait to see Eleanor Oliphant come to life on screen.

You will cheer for her.
You will cry for her.
You will want to give her a hug.
You will then remember that she is a fictional character.
You will then remember that there are many like her in this world.

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