All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

This was yet another book assigned to me in my English class this year. Surprisingly, contrary to the other books our class has read, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Typically, I have a strong repulsive reflex to gore and all war related subjects. The discomfort my stomach feels and the immense sorrow I feel for fallen soldiers weighs my heart down. Remarque’s novel did just that but to my surprise, this book is one I’d read again.

Nineteen year old Paul Baumer narrates the daily lives of him and his German companions as they experience the horrors of World War I. Technological and warfare advancements such as trench warfare, tanks and poison gas pose serious threat to these inexperienced young boys. Paul gives a detailed account of the inhumane living conditions and terrific attacks where every man’s life is on the line and chance is the determining factor if one lives or gets blown up. A reader gets to meet and befriend all of Paul’s closest companions: Kat, Tjaden, Kropp, Kemmerich and others that Remarque reveals are the only people in the world that can understand and love Paul. Together they flirt with girls in attempt to regain their innocence and connection of the world they left behind and together they fight to survive, not only to keep themselves alive but to stay alive to support and comfort each other. There are humorous moments and there are melancholic moments that all coalesce to make Remarque’s masterpiece.

Like many war novels, the conditions and experiences sound absurd to civilians back at home. However, while majority of war novels glorify the bravery and heroism of soldiers, Remarque’s novel takes an opposing standpoint. War is not beautiful nor adventurous; war is a slaughterhouse that takes souls, strips them of innocence and leaves them fearful and desensitized. I love that Remarque chooses to focus on the negative effects of war and admonishes society for our constant exaltation of combat. Young children in our society have minds filled to the brim of the same ideals that Paul and his friends were taught in grade school. Their teacher, Kantorek, pounds patriotism into their young minds and shoves the hungry desire for glory down their throats. But the brutality of war destroyed any want to serve their country and gain homage back at home; Remarque desperately wants society to recognize his pleas of reducing war glorification.

The loss of innocence and the admonishing of war glorification is only two of the numerous themes depicted in this work. There are touching themes of friendship and there are heart wrenching themes of the Lost Generation that make the reader reflect on humanity and the value of life rather than spurring the reader into an acclaim of warfare. Remarque’s work is bittersweet, providing immense catharsis but an unsettling question in the back of one’s mind. Is war worth the pain? Are those who survive wars really surviving if they come back home only to suffer from PTSD and detachment from a life they once lived? There is no other book I’d recommend to a reader who wants a gripping but thought-provoking read.

-Jessica T.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque is availalbe for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I just finished reading this book early in the morning, shortly before 1 am and to put it simply, I am still in awe as I write this. I’ve never read a book that was so casually written yet so beautiful and articulate. While writing in letter format may seem improper for a published book, the style of writing produces a personal touch that is key to the novel.

Stephen Chbosky follows the coming of age story of a young freshmen boy, who goes by Charlie. Charlie is writing to an anonymous friend and refuses to use real names of people in his life as to protect their privacy. This friend and these letters are Charlie’s source of comfort and security as he adventures through life, beginning high school without a close relationship to his family members or friends and ending his first year with new best friends. This book touches on topics that people are sadly to afraid to talk about such as depression, abuse and the difficulties many teens face as they grow up. It’s incredibly relatable and emotionally touching; you can feel Charlie’s heartbreak and you can almost touch his strong passion for those he learns to love. You can sense the bittersweetness pouring out of the pages, you can laugh at Charlie’s dry, innocent humor. Chbosky ensures a roller coaster of emotions while providing in depth insight to the simplistic yet so complex teenage mind.

I will warn that some scenes or conversations are explicit; I know many high schoolers have been exposed to these topics but some aren’t comfortable reading about it. If that applies to you as a reader, then I don’t suggest checking this book out. However, if you are still curious and unfazed, I think this is an important read because it shows teens out there that they aren’t alone in whatever they’re struggling with, no matter what it is. It also comforts them in knowing that there are kind people in the world that are willing to befriend them and help them solve their problems in a positive way that changes them for the better. Even if the road is bumpy and painful, the destination always proves to be worth the drive if one keeps pushing on. Chbosky attempts to explain that while the teenage years are full of hardships and confusion, everyone finds their way sooner or later. And until one reaches that point of self-confidence, the journey there is a learning experience that shapes you into the person you will be out in the “real world”.

-Jessica T.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive.

1984 by George Orwell

All of my previous book reviews have suggested and encouraged readers to check out that specific novel, for it appealed to me; however, this time around, while I still recommend my audience to read 1984 by George Orwell, I cannot say I enjoyed reading it. Dystopian novels have never interested me, nor have they ever made me feel good after reading. A sense of uneasiness settles in my gut as I begin to think about the messages the author is voicing about our societies and worlds. 1984 is a dystopian novel, foreshadowing the downfall of our society if we allow political authority and sovereignty to fall into the wrong hands. Orwell, motivated to write after witnessing the horrors of Hitler and Stalin, demonstrates that dictators and despots threaten to plague our governments and therefore, our societies as a whole.

In the superstate Oceania, citizens are constantly supervised by the overruling government named the Party. The face of the Party is Big Brother, a man alluding to Stalin and his dictatorship. The Party hides behind totalitarian fear tactics: installing telescreens in every home and microphones in every corner, threatening to “vaporize” those disobedient citizens who turn against the ultimately powerful Party, brainwashing children into Junior Spies who ruthlessly turn in their rebellious parents and fixedly revering Big Brother. History, language, culture and lifestyle are all dictated by the Party. Laws ban politically rebellious words and replace them with the common language, Newspeak, which aims to suppress individualistic thinking and expression. The manipulation of history and human existence serve to fulfill governmental prophecies and create the illusion that the government is omniscient. The Party enforces acceptance and belief in hypocritical statements; this concept is called doublethink. Civilization’s purpose remains to serve the Party by obeying all laws, submitting to Big Brother as a faithful member and believing all slogans of the Party, no matter how contradictory they appear to be.

Winston Smith is portrayed as an average Party member on the surface but his ability to individually wonder and question the Party’s motives lead to conflict. He realizes he is not alone in his silent fight against the Party when he meets seemingly allies. The mysteries behind many concepts and characters illustrate the theme of appearance versus reality. I will admit this novel is full of plot twists, loss and betrayal, making for an interesting read. However, I will say that the ending disappointed me greatly.

Nonetheless, Orwell presents important ideas about our future as a society using allusion and foreshadowing channeled through various characters. As 1984 in my opinion is an important read but not a captivating novel, I rate it a 3/10.

-Jessica T.

George Orwell’s 1984 is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

This book may not be the happiest or the prettiest but I must say it is one of the deepest and most profound books I’ve ever read. Assigned to me in my English class at school, I at first did not know what to expect because how can one be the lord of a bunch of flies? Disgusting, annoying little creatures they are . . . However, as our class annotated page after page and read article after article about the human psyche and the never ending violence occurring in the world, I realized how vital this fictional allegory is to our understanding of our society.

Based off of his experiences of World War II, Golding writes this futuristic novel during a fictional World War III where a group of English schoolboys crash on an island after their escape plane is shot down. Ironically, these stereotypical private school pupils slowly turn savage, revealing the gross truth about the evil within every man and what dangers can be unleashed when man turns cruel.

Taking advantage of being stranded on an island and lacking any parental guidance, these young boys lounge in the lagoon, eat tropical fruit, and attempt to create their own government. They elect Ralph, one of the older, more attractive boys who has possession of a seemingly-magical conch. This democratic government only lasted a few chapters before their separation from civilization is clearly visualized. They become hungry for bloodshed and one of the boys in particular, Jack, desires ruthlessly killing a pig over being rescued. Death and disputes steadily increase, leaving the audience wanting to know what happens next, even if what is to come is not pleasant. Simply put, the plot can be summarized as a fight for power and survival. However, that is to say the least about this thrilling novel.

I definitely had mixed emotions while reading. In some instances, I was upset at the character’s decisions and in one chapter, tears were spilling. Golding has a beautiful writing style that touches both beauty and pain and reflects upon the world. This novel invokes one to think about what Golding is trying to reveal about human society and puts the world’s violence, hatred and connate evil into perspective.

-Jessica T.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

Nature!

Writing Prompt: Describe a character experiencing an unorthodox morning and their reflection following the morning’s events.

Unfortunately for me, and quite controversially to my motto “life is dumb and I want to sleep”, I found myself stumbling in the muted shimmering light of the rising sun out to sidewalk with a water bottle in hand and athletic shoes snug on my cold feet. Yawning, I let out a puff of air, my breath leaving it’s mark in the air. Not that I was against physical activity or anything but sleeping in until nine o’clock then rising to sip some tea while reading a novel was just, simply put, preferable.

My childhood friend, Jax (that garrulous, manipulative rascal), somehow made me comply to going on a hike at five thirty on a Saturday morning. Last night’s phone call was still vague and fuzzy in my groggy mind. I picked up my pace, feeling the cool air seep into the seams of my leggings and weave through the strands of my ponytail.

An hour or so later, the sun had fully peeped its head out from behind the mountaintops and illuminated the windy path up to 48 Wiles Way, a crooked condo that perched itself on top of a hill overlooking the beach, surfboards and sandy towels scattered around the front door and on the balcony. Ten minutes of hacking through tough vines and unforgiving cacti led me to a meditating Jax, who was gazing at the surf, probably rating the day’s waves. My audible gasps for breath made him spin around and chuckle as if my failure was the best thing he’s seen all morning. “Hey, partner, let’s start this hike, yeah?” and without waiting for my response, he jumped up and his tan hand latched onto my fleshy, pale one and dragged me to the trail that led down to the rocky shore.

The narrow trail, I discovered five minutes in, was home to various creatures, including cockroaches, rats and squirrels, who I was tempted to feed crumbs from my jacket pockets but thought better of it. I didn’t need a line of squirrels tracking me down looking for more old peanut butter toast bits. I was preoccupied with not tripping on  my shoelaces and faceplanting.

An overwhelming wave of sea air blew our direction, rustling the luscious foliage and invading my nose. It proved to be a new scent as my senses were accustomed to the wonderful aroma of brewing coffee and new books. Still, there was an appealing, delicious feature of the ocean air that made me want to grow wings and fly right over the cliff and into the sparkling blue waves. There was a beautiful array of flowers in the bushes we passed, a spectrum of magenta and fiery orange hues. Birds sang songs to each other but quickly flew away, startled when our dusty tennis shoes would slap the ground, sending up delicate clouds of brown dirt in our wake.

By ten, the warm sunshine began to slowly engulf me, creating dark pools of sweat on my back but leaving me feeling exhilarated, empowered and free. I tore my jacket off and released a satisfied, exhausted whoop of excitement. Jax barked a laugh and followed suite. If a stranger were to look up from the sandy nadir, they would see two obnoxious teenagers, pounding the ground, making a rowdy mess of things. But if you saw it through my eyes, you’d see two individuals, sparked into happiness by the energy of the sun, starting the weekend off right in joyful relaxation. As we came to the final stretch, our shouts subsided and we let our huffing breaths fill whatever air the chirping birds and crashing waves didn’t. All too soon, the challenge came to an end and my beating heart leapt in time with the pounding water. When Jax and I found ourselves sprawled on the warm sand, still saying nothing but letting the summer atmosphere speak for us, singing about nature’s unique beauty and awesome power over humans, I scolded myself. Why had I never took up Jax’s offer on a morning run before? This is so beautiful and worth the early morning alarm! Jax turned and gave me a knowing grin as he watched my illuminated face, eyes studying the ever changing waves, lips curving into a permanent smile.

Nature, I concluded, entices us, provides for us, awes us, and inspires us more and more, each time we step foot outside.

-Jessica T.

PSA: Substance Abuse

This is not a book review or a movie review; it’s not a response to a writing prompt. Instead, I wanted to type up my opinion on a subject that’s been heavily impacting my life, my friendships and my heart. No matter how much statistics prove how deadly and negative drugs and alcohol impact lives, people repeatedly run to substances as sources of fun, escape and stability. While a wild night provides thrill and serves the adrenaline that many feed off of, one mistake can prove to be deadly and detrimental. Problems never become solved, but instead are drowned in liters of alcohol and burnt by blunt after blunt. Still, they resurface, hurting even more and provoking another urge to dive into trouble and substance use. If one truly reflects, substance abuse truly cannot provide any permanent comfort or safety. So then, I wonder, why do I seem to keep losing friends and hearing stories on the news of continuous substance abuse?

It’s a harsh pang in the heart to hear and see how many lives substances have hurt. Personally and thankfully, my family life has always been drug and alcohol free but for many, I know substance abuse is strongly prevalent. Therefore, this leads to physical abuse, neglect, financial instability and so many other outcomes that trickle down and hurt too many lives. And that is downright unjust. Too many children lack parental love and guidance, too many students lose best friends to unpromising danger. This is the darkness of the world that needs to be addressed and cleared.

Life was meant to be lived beautifully and purely. Drugs and alcohol work to distort that truth and they lie to users, tempting them to believe that life is falsely colored. But true, vibrant colors are seen in so many other aspects of this world. From the pink and orange hues of sunsets to the bright light radiated by the smiles of laughing couples, from the earthy foliage of autumn to the crisp ivory of snowfall. This world offers us so much. There are roads to be driven on, oceans to be swam in and people to be talked to. Why confine yourself to the limited world of partying and intoxication when you can release yourself to the peaceful realm of adventuring and growing? With free will, why sell yourself short to a life confined to the vicious wheel of unconscious, reckless living? Just a little food for thought . . .

-Jessica T.

Back To School!

SOS! It’s that time of year again where every student excitedly buys new pencils and backpacks only to step foot onto campus and dread the long looming 180 days ahead of them. Leaving summer’s clutches and watching the warm days melt away is definitely bittersweet but the school year has so much to offer!

Needing motivation? Here, read this:

  • Remember that education is a privilege and you are incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to broaden your knowledge for free. There are so many children around the world that dream of being in your shoes. Take advantage of this opportunity and spend this year making the effort to enjoy and indulge in learning!
  • Find something that makes you look forward to school each day! Maybe it’s seeing a friend in French class or maybe you love the way your history teacher makes class interesting. Maybe it’s a club you can regularly hang out with or maybe it’s heading to the library and reading all the amazing books it has to offer. School will be so much more enjoyable and tolerable if you find something good about it.
  • Make incentives! Reward yourself each day once you get home from school because you deserve it. Whether it’s allowing yourself to watch your favorite Netflix show for an hour or going outside for a bike ride, make something to look forward to throughout the day.
  • The experience. Let me explain this more thoroughly: going to school and interacting with others teaches you so many important life lessons–some of which are more important than the academic lessons taught. A humanities based education broadens your mind and improves your critical thinking skills, communicating with your peers improves your social skills, hearing opinions of others opens your eyes to new ideals and possibilities. There’s so much to gain by going to school and being attentive and engaged.

Need some good studying music? I have you covered! (*=my personal favorites!)

  • If you’re into dream pop, psychedelic rock, indie pop, or lo-fi, I suggest listening to Peach Pit*, Hippo Campus, Spissy*, Swimming Tapes, The Growlers, COIN, Yellow Days, Mac Demarco, Summer Salt, Beach Fossils, Billie Eilish, or The Kooks! They all give off a very laid back, dreamy vibe that is perfect to play as background music as you complete math homework!
  • If you’re still wishing you were sunbathing at the beach instead of studying, I recommend Sublime, Hockey Dad*, Golden Coast, Viola Beach, Bob Marley, Blossoms, Real Estate*, Cage The Elephant*, Circa Waves*, or Jon Bellion. They create a peaceful illusion that soothes you and sends you right back to sandy, sunny bliss!
  • If you’re more of a punk rock, alternative rock, grunge, pop rock type of person, you’re bound to like at least one of the following bands: All Time Low*, Green Day*, Nirvana, Boys Like Girls*, We The Kings, The All-American Rejects, The Smashing Pumpkins, Guns N’ Roses, Nothing But Thieves, or machineheart. Definitely more upbeat, slightly feisty and very fun to dance around to during a studying break!
  • Finally, if you’re one of those people who dread the uncomfortable stickiness of summer heat and you can’t wait for cool fall days, I have a sweater weather playlist for you. You can almost smell pumpkin everything when you listen to artists like Lana Del Rey*, LANY*, Little May, Arctic Monkeys, The Neighbourhood*, The 1975*, Two Door Cinema Club, Ed Sheeran, X Ambassadors, Josh Groban, or Seafret*.

In a perfect world, this post would amp all of you up about going back to school but alas, we live in a fallen society. Hopefully this at least encouraged a select few of you to view school in a positive way. Best wishes this school year, everyone!!

-Jessica T.