Book Review: The Storyteller

“It’s easy to say you will do what’s right and shun what’s wrong, but when you get close enough to any given situation, you realize that there is no black or white. There are gradations of gray.” – Jodi Picoult 

And isn’t that the truth? It’s no secret to any of my family members or friends who one of my favorite authors is: Jodi Picoult. I’ve been hooked ever since a friend of mine gave me My Sister’s Keeper and I salivated over it. I knew from then on Picoult was an author to look out for. And I did. I’ve read nearly every one of her books save for one or two, and this book was by far the hardest for me to get through. As someone who is Jewish, I’ve been reminded over and over how atrocious the Holocaust was, and it was awful. In fact, I’m not entirely sure there is a word in the English language that can possibly describe how terrible it was and not just for Jewish people. Perhaps that is why it was difficult for me to read. The book isn’t based on any one real person per se, but Picoult is not an author to take research lightly. I admire her work ethic tremendously. This book was no exception to her thorough research. She spoke with Holocaust survivors. Knowing that, you understand that while this book is a work of fiction, the horrors people faced in the concentration camps were not and therefore, most likely, a lot of what is in those chapters is not fiction but ultimately too real.

That being said, what would you do if someone close to you told you they were part of one of the most vicious crimes against humanity, and then asked you to kill them? This is exactly what happens to Sage Singer. Sage is a baker who works alone and late at night/into the early morning. With a scar on her face, she considers herself unattractive and therefore doesn’t really warrant any attention. Being alone suits her fine. Sage meets Josef in a grief support group. To her, he’s just a nice old man. Until one day Josef reveals the truth. He was part of the Nazi SS Guard, and for that, he wants Sage to help him kill himself.

From there we’re taken on a painful journey when it’s revealed that Sage’s own grandmother, Minka, is a Holocaust survivor. And to find out if Josef really is who he says he is, we have to read Minka’s harrowing story.

Yes, at the surface, this is a book about the Holocaust, but at its core what it really is is a book about forgiveness. Who deserves it, who doesn’t, who can grant it, and who can’t. And if any decision we make is ever really the “right” one.

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Book Review: The Geography of You and Me

Love can find you in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times, like say an elevator during a blackout in New York City. And that is where we meet Owen and Lucy.

Seventeen year old Owen has been plucked out of his Pennsylvania home which he shared with his parents when a tragedy hits to the busying city streets of New York, which he hates.

Sixteen year old Lucy is a latchkey kid if you ever did find one, usually staying with her older brothers while her parents jet off to Europe. Only now her brothers are away in college and with her parents away too, she’s left to her own devices.

One fateful afternoon when Lucy goes to check the mail and Owen is on his way to the roof of the building (one of the few perks of being the new building manager’s son) they meet in the elevator. They’re not in there for long when it literally envelopes them in darkness and they are stranded. Soon the talking and banter begins. Although they are rescued not soon after, they decide to continue spending the day together.

Smith builds a very sweet, but slow-building romance between the two, a romance that is quickly put on the proverbial back burner when Lucy’s parents want her to come finish out her last two years of high school in London and Owen’s father loses his job as the building’s manager, sending them on a road trip to Anywhere But Here and We’ll Know When We Get There.

Communicating through postcards and e-mail, Lucy and Owen attempt to maintain their fledgling relationship, something anyone who’s ever been in a long distance relationship can confirm, is a lot easier said than done. As Lucy moves from Edinburgh to London and Owen from places like San Francisco to Seattle, and their communication dwindles, the two can only wonder: are some moments just meant to be fleeting? And can you really keep the spark going with someone you met in the dark?

Book Review: Five Days Left

What if you only had five days left? Five days to live the rest of your life, five days to spend with your spouse, five days to spend with your kid. This is a question plaguing both main characters in Julie Lawson Timmer’s debut novel, Five Days Left.

Five Days Left follows Mara Nichols and Scott Coffman, two characters who are each dealing with their own parental woes. Mara was adopted as a child and has since adopted her own little girl. Meanwhile, Scott and his wife are currently fostering the younger brother of a former student. Although they have never met in real life, the two each belong to a forum for parents of adoptive and fostered children. As the novel progresses and Mara and Scott face their seemingly separate journeys, Timmer manages to weave their interconnectivity beautifully as the reader jumps back and forth between Mara and Scott and their interactions in their own lives as well as between each other on the parenting forum.

Scott should be elated now that he and his wife are finally expecting a child of their own; however, knowing he must give up his “little man” in five days when the boy’s mother returns is killing Scott and it’s also taking quite the toll on his marriage.

Mara used to be a successful lawyer. She used to be happy. Moreover, she used to be healthy. But that was then and what is now is Huntington’s, a disease that is slowly taking her hostage and giving her no respite whatsoever. So Mara hatches a plan. Her birthday is in five days. Instead of letting Huntington’s kill her in the most humiliating and debilitating of ways, she will die on her own terms. She will take her own life.

Five days is all Scott and Mara have left.

This novel will make you cry, will make you angry, but most importantly it’ll provoke you to answer one simple question: what would you do if you only had five days left?