Author Archives: bartonzhuang

Thirteen Reasons Why–Jay Asher

This is Barton reading Thirteen Reasons Why (13RW) and as just a note of introduction, I have already completed the television series before starting this book, and so some of my point of views may already be set in stone by how it was acted in the television series. A girl commits suicide and leaves behind cassette tapes recorded before her death leaving her thoughts on the 13 reasons why she committed suicide. She has these tapes shipped to the people who have wronged her (all of her 13 reasons are people).

Reading the first 1/3 of this book, I have already noticed some huge differences between it and the novel. However, both of them are similar in that there is a lot of controversy following the novel/show and I would like to state my position on it. Some people have said that it glorifies important issues like suicide and to be honest, I really think it does. In fact, whenever Hannah (the girl who committed suicide) is talking through her pre-recorded tapes, it just seems to me almost as a kind of sick game. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the show, but in the show I feel as if it was a little more subtle with Hannah’s message. To cause guilt was definitely a part of it, but in the book she seems vicious, almost as if she is exacting revenge on the people that wronged her. By doing so, I think Asher has created almost a starlight for people to view suicide in a different way than what it truly is and can feel for people around them.

Asher also has a weird way of telling the reader when it’s Hannah over the tapes or the main character Clay and his thoughts. Asher italicizes when it is over the tape and uses normal text for Clay. I think it’s a good way to tell them apart, but personally I have found that I had to go back and re-read a section because it didn’t fit a character, probably because sometimes I can’t see the difference between the two writing styles. Sometimes I feel that it breaks apart the story in a negative way and rather than read all of what Hannah is saying, I find myself interrupted by Clay’s thoughts and memories.

There are plenty of good things to say about this novel too. I think the book does a great job explaining the relationship between each of the characters and how they all as a whole contributed to Hannah’s suicide. She spends less time on them compared to the show, but she still does a great job underlining some things that weren’t said in the show that even I thought. For the first 1/3, I read the introduction and four tapes. It was really interesting watching all of the characters and their personalities and roles connect almost like a puzzle for me. There are sometimes where I think that there was no way that the people in these tapes to know that what they did would contribute to what Hannah did, but then sometimes after hearing Hannah’s side of the story, I will become conflicted. Especially with Tape #4 on Tyler Down, the “Peeping Tom.” I didn’t like that Tyler was taking pictures of Hannah, in any way, but I did not expect that to be a reason why she would commit suicide until she explained everything. She said that, “Why didn’t you leave me alone, Tyler? My house. My bedroom. They were supposed to be safe for me. Safe from everything outside. But you were the one who took that away” (89). I loved Hannah’s explanation for this and almost even made me feel guilty for not expecting that to be a reason Hannah did what she did. To feel unsafe is a terrible feeling as security is such a basic human necessity, and taking that away from someone else IS cruel.

Hannah’s narration to me can sometimes seem like a sick game, and sometimes it’s really deep and makes you really think. I also love how complex each character is and I am finding myself excited to read more of Hannah’s commentary on each coming person. The only think I dislike are some choices the author made but are mostly small things. Overall so far, I’ll give it an 11/13 🙂 and look forward to reading more.

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Paper Towns–John Green

In the recent years, John Green has made quite a reputation, and it’s well deserved. After all, the guy can write a good romance novel and he’s great at making the reader cry. Romance isn’t really up my alley, but after reading the Fault In Our Stars and crying to sleep–WHY DID YOU KILL AUGUSTUS?!?! WHYYYY– I decided to pick up one of his other books. After reading Looking For Alaska earlier in the year, I decided John Green was still a cool guy. Between An Abundance Of Katherine’s and Paper Towns, I chose Paper Towns, seemingly a little less of the sappy romance stuff.

It’s great. If anything, I’d actually say so far this book is better than The Fault In Our Stars. John Green brings out his humorous writing again and juxtaposes serious matters with funny events (I mean come on, a missing girl and saran wrapping cars? Hilarious). John Green’s way of writing and the almost lighthearted feeling his books convey are one huge reason why I decided to read this book. As an author, Green does a good job of bringing out warmness in his writing, almost a feeling that not everything in life is dark even if dark things happen. However, I would love to talk about the title of the book along with arguable the most important quote in the book. “It’s a paper town, paper houses and paper people. Everything is uglier up close.” Margo, the girl that Quentin (main character) has a crush on has disappeared, and he is trying to find her and bring her home (I know, sappy romance… yuck). The stress on paper as almost a perfect physical ideal is very interesting to me, as I thought when I first picked up the book that Paper Towns referred to fragility. Margo sees the world further than it’s surface level and can be really deep. Some of the things she says really gets a reader thinking about their own personal life. Green also does a great job of giving the characters individual personalities. I know for a fact I learned a lot about Margo from when she talked about how capitalization was unfair to the letters in the middle (sHe wROte LiKE thIS). All of Green’s characters are super unique, just like the stories he brings to the table.

Currently reading the rest of the book, and I am loving it. It’s absolutely a book that I don’t want to put down and I look forward to finishing it. Hopefully, John Green does not disappoint in these last few chapters, because this book is amazing so far!

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Room–Emma Donoghue

Entry One: Barton Zhuang

I know you guys are probably getting sick of all the depressing stuff I write in these blog posts… but the dark parts are the parts that really stand out to me, and “Room” by Emma Donoghue really shows a lot darkness below it’s facade of happiness and joy.

How large is your house? 1,026 square feet? 4,204 square feet? You may even think your house is small, but the characters of this novel have lived in a mere garden shed, and Jack, the main character has lived here since birth, not knowing of the endless possibilities the world holds. He’s happy because he’s never known anything else, and thought that the endless possibilities of the world were trapped in an imaginary realm viewable only through their television. He lives with his Ma, who was kidnapped as a college student and held in the garden shed for many years where her captor comes almost every night to rape her. The life that Ma has created for Jack (who is five years old now) in this impossible situation is admirable, after all that she has had to bear.

The juxtaposition that Donoghue applies is heartbreaking. Little Jack doesn’t understand everything that is happening, and is happy. He enjoys his life as it is, while Ma is trying very hard to give Jack a normal life. One can learn to hate Old Nick, not only because he’s the antagonist, but because what he is doing is absolutely disgusting. He’s taking away another human being’s life, something that everyone gets only once, which can be too short. For me, sometimes a school day can just fly by, and I’ll be home before I know it, but I just can’t bear to imagine how life would have been for Ma and Jack.

One really specific part that stood out to me a lot was “Scream.” Ma had taught to Jack a game every day after their nap to scream as loud as they could, Ma trying in a harsh effort to communicate their entrapment to the outside world so they can be saved. Ma seeming almost desperate, and Jack screaming as if playing a game, not knowing the full reason why they scream. After they scream, Ma always shushes Jack, and Jack asked once why they become quiet, and Ma responds “Just in case someone is listening” (or something along those lines… I can’t find the quote right now). This part really saddened me, as if there was no hope for them, and that this kind of stuff could be happening every day. The thought that someone right this moment could be screaming behind a panel of soundproof glass chills me to the core.

Overall, this novel has been fun to read, especially from Little Jack’s point of view. The innocence and naiveness of Jack only makes the book more painful to read, but it’s a kind of painful that makes you want to read more. It’s so good at keeping me hooked, so 9/10 is my current rating.

 

 

 

 

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All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: 9/10

One of the books I read over the summer was “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. This novel is set in the 1940’s, in the midst of World War II, and tells the story of two teenagers by the names of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig. Marie-Laure has been blind since six, and is from France, where she lived with her father, the principal locksmith of the Museum of Natural History. Werner is an orphan who grows up in Germany with his younger sister. His uncanny aptitude for fixing radios gets him into a very prestigious academy for Hitler Youth. These two characters created by Doerr are on opposite sides of the raging war, and yet their paths would manage to cross.   

Although Marie-Laure was blind, she could get her way through the city. She could laugh with her father and feel the shells of snails and mollusks at the museum her dad worked at. Things were finally looking up for her. When Marie-Laure’s city was being attacked, she and her father fled to seek refuge with Marie-Laure’s great uncle in a city called Saint Malo. Here, she and her father try to rebuild everything that they had lost from evacuating their old home, but only so much can be recovered.

Werner is an orphan boy with a younger sister. He has a fascination in radios, which gets him into an academy for Hitler Youth where he is challenged physically and mentally. He makes friends and he finally feels as if he belongs, but one day he goes out to the field. His job is to locate enemy broadcasts by using radios and to eliminate them. His new job shows him new things, but also brings him to Marie-Laure.  

One aspect of this book that really drew me in was the use of dates and the switching of narrators. The book was divided into segments, where you could get a brief overview of what would happen in the future. With the switching of narrators, Doerr managed to keep me as a reader almost completely hooked. One of his well-placed cliffhangers could get me thinking about the book days after I had put it down and many hours in the night. The new way of writing that Doerr had brought to the table had amazed me and had me constantly imagining what I would do if I were in the situation that Marie-Laure and Werner were in. Some unique parts of this book include the history of the time period. After reading the book, not only did I connect to the characters, but I also felt as though I understood the time period better as well. The struggles that Marie-Laure faced running away from the Nazi’s, but also the terrors that Werner had to go through in training both painted me a very clear picture of the life they were living in. I would recommend this book to anyone because of just how fun of a book it was to read, but especially if you are a person who finds yourself drawn to the characters or find yourself identifying with them. Doerr did a fantastic job in the character development department, making the characters in “All The Light We Cannot See” one of my favorites that I had ever read about.

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