Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Best Paige In The Book (and Series!) Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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Y'all finals are FINALLY over! I finished my exams last week, so now I'm taking it easy while I wait for virtual graduation. With this new-found freedom, I'm looking forward to getting back to blogging, reading, crocheting, and all of my other pursuits that had to be put on the back burner. One of the many carrots I dangled in front of my face to motivate myself to finish was getting to watch the finale of Little Fires Everywhere on Hulu. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was one of the first books I read during quarantine, but I wanted to wait on writing a review until I made it through the series as well. I am so excited to write this review because both the book and the series were phenomenal!

The storyline is centered around two families: the Richardsons, a wealthy upper middle class family of 6, and the Warrens, a nomadic mother-daughter duo. Mia Warren is a photographer with a mysterious past who is looking for inspiration and a place for her daughter, Pearl, to finish high school. When Mia and Pearl come to Shaker Heights, Ohio with all their worldly possessions held inside Mia's VW Rabbit, they rent a house from Elena Richardson, the picture-perfect matriarch of the Richardson household. Elena was born and raised in Shaker Heights, and she embodies all of its values: perfection, harmony, and order. She followed the rules, went to a nearby private college, got married to a man who became a lawyer, had 4 kids, and lives in a nice house in an affluent neighborhood. As Mia and Elena's lives become more and more intertwined through their kids, friends, and involvements around town, the picturesque, orderly facade starts to chip away. Mia's secrets become unraveled, Elena's carefully cultivated lifestyle begins to crumble, the lives of each woman's children become complicated, and the idyllic Shaker Heights utopia is shaken by a major court case that divides the town.

Little Fires Everywhere brings so many topics into discussion: motherhood and family, the impact of secrets, growth and identity, and whether following the rules and "doing everything you're supposed to" really matters. Celeste Ng brings single parents, adoptive families, and biological families into the story and allows the reader to understand what motherhood looks like from all different perspectives. From the mother who has a color-coded calendar to the mother who suffers from infertility to the mother who gave her child an unconventional life, the choices and mistakes each mother makes highlight the difficult job that mothers have in raising children as well as caring for themselves along the way. Ng weaves in backstories for her characters that highlight the choices her characters made that led them to their present-day lives. Additionally, each character harbors their own secrets that threaten to change the lives of themselves and those around them. Choosing to follow the rules or violate social norms also presents an interesting addition to the narrative, particularly when there isn't a clear right or wrong answer. Despite being set in the late '90s, Little Fires Everywhere raises so many discussions that are relevant even today.

The storyline of this work is so captivating. While parts of the novel were a bit slow, they set the stage for more explosive parts later on. Ng, a native of Shaker Heights in real life, portrays life in northeast Ohio SO well! After spending the first 18 years of my own life in northeast Ohio, swearing I'd never come back, and somehow managing to be stuck here until further notice due to COVID-19, I can 100% vouch for the accuracy of her portrayal of both the town and its citizens. Ng's characters emulate so many of the people I went to high school with as well as their parents and extended families. She acquaints her reader with her characters in the present, then weaves in backstories that alter what the reader thought their perception of each character was. None of the characters are blameless, but readers can also understand what led the characters made the choices they did (even if some characters' choices make more sense than others). The ended was revealed at the beginning of the book, but the reader still feels like they're left at a major cliffhanger at the end. While I would have loved some closure to the story, I feel like the ending forces readers to think about the topics addressed rather than simply tie it up with a bow and forget about it.

Book Rating: ★★★★

I didn't start the series until after I had read the book. I figured it would be like most literary works adapted to movies or shows: entertaining, but you get more from the book. Boy, was I WRONG! I even found myself unsure of how things would end as I watched from week to week. I was able to binge the first 4 episodes straight since I tuned in after the series started, but the last 4 episodes required an agonizing week-to-week wait for the next episode. Elena was played by Reese Witherspoon and Mia was played by Kerry Washington. They both deserve awards for how well they brought their characters to life. Tiffany Boone played a younger Mia, and her embodiment of the character was a flawless mirror to the character Kerry Washington introduced. The acting in this series was incredible. Some parts of the storyline were altered, but I think it added a richness and depth to the narrative. The series also addressed sexuality and identity in a way that the book didn't address. Being able to see the emotions played out added so much to the story as well. Books may describe feelings, but seeing pain, joy, or concern on screen strikes a different chord. Overall, the acting and storyline in the series were absolutely perfect and did the book so much justice.

Series Rating: ★★★★★

I cannot recommend this book and series enough! They spark so many important discussions, and the storyline is incredible! If you haven't read the book yet, I urge you to read it ASAP. You can buy the book in hardcopy or via the Kindle app here. The series is available on Hulu. It was hands-down the best binge I've had all through quarantine. Let me know what you think!

Make today the best page yet!

(All images reproduced via Amazon Associates program)

Friday, April 10, 2020

The Best Paige In The Book Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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One good thing to come from the COVID-19 outbreak has been more reading time. I am eternally grateful I brought my iPad home so I can read anything I download to my Kindle app. I usually prefer a physical book, but since delivery is all over the place, I'm surviving with eBooks. I have a mile-long reading list that just seems to keep growing, and law school has kept me from making any kind of dent in that list. Perhaps being stuck inside all the time and being in such an uncontrollable and unpredictable situation has also contributed to my wanting to get lost in a good book. My latest read was An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and I absolutely loved it!

The book is about Roy and Celestial, a couple that has been married for a year. Roy is accused of a crime that he did not commit and gets sentenced to 12 years in prison. During Roy's imprisonment, Celestial tries to stay committed to her marriage: she writes to Roy, visits him in prison, and has her uncle working tirelessly to try to get Roy released. However, their marriage had issues to begin with, and years apart isn't helping. Meanwhile, Celestial's childhood best friend, Andre, has been in love with Celestial his whole life. Andre and Celestial find comfort in each other while Roy remains imprisoned. Roy's sentence is finally overturned after 5 years, and he hopes to reclaim as much of his former life as possible. But just how much was left untouched and unchanged after 5 years?

This book was written so beautifully; it takes an issue that's faced by far too many and gives it a story and a rich context. Tayari Jones writes from the point-of-view of Roy, Celestial, and Andre rather than just one single character. Each has a backstory and experiences that led them to be intertwined with the others. Witnessing the events of the novel through the eyes of each character allows the reader to understand how much of an impact wrongful accusations and imprisonment can have on many different lives. Each character has their own strengths and flaws, and the reader is hard-pressed to completely take any one character's side throughout the book.

I felt so many different emotions and sympathies while I was reading. I understood Roy's sorrow from being in prison for a crime he didn't commit, Celestial's sense of loneliness at the loss of her husband and uncertainty of how to move forward, and Andre's longing for someone who was always just out of his reach. I even thought about the victim of the crime Roy was accused of: she still experienced a heinous crime, even though it wasn't committed by Roy, and she is now responsible for the 5 years of life that Roy lost in prison. This book will make you think and it will stir emotions.

Rating: ★★★★
Favorite Quotes:
  • "All that was a long time ago, when things were different. I know nostalgia is a hell of a drug, but I can't help recalling those days when we were underage and broke."
  • "When a woman shuts you out, picking the lock won't let you back in."
  • "Is this nostalgia? Is this how it really happened? I wish we had taken a photo so we could remember how we looked."
  • "But how you feel love and understand love are two different things. Now, so many years down the road, I recognize that I was alone and adrift and that he was lovely in the way that only a ladies' man can be. He reminded me of Atlanta, and I reminded him of the same. All there were reasons why we were drawn to each other, but standing with him outside of Maroons, we were past reason. Human emotion is beyond comprehension, smooth and uninterrupted, like an orb made of blown glass."
  • "I'm not saying that there is anything between then, but I'm saying that there has always been something between them."
  • "I felt his emotion, deeper than the grave, and I understood his hopelessness, too, his longing for a woman you could never hold."

I highly recommend this book! The writing is so captivating, and it tells a story that headlines and statistics about the wrongfully accused and imprisoned cannot hope to convey. You can read this book in hard copy or through Amazon's kindle app here. Let me know how you like it!

Make today the best page yet!

(All images and text reprinted with permission from Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)

Monday, April 6, 2020

Thanks, Coronavirus πŸ˜’

Being stuck in my childhood home was not how I planned to spend this spring. I was looking forward to breaking out my sundresses, finding an awesome pair of shoes for graduation, and finally getting to sit on the patio at restaurants when my fiancΓ© and I had date nights. Instead, I'm in Ohio with my parents waiting to hear what's next. I'm angry, sad, anxious, confused, and so many other emotions. I am dedicating this post to ranting about all the things that have been weighing on me as a result. Feel free to include your own frustrations in the comments.

Before I begin, I want to start by saying that I understand that the measures taken were necessary. Keeping people safe has to come before everyone's enjoyment, even when it's hard. That being said, it's also healthy to express your emotions and allow yourself to feel the things you're feeling. So here we go:

πŸ’” The 3 F's: Friends, Family, and FiancΓ© πŸ’”
I miss everyone. I usually toe the line between introvert and extrovert, and it's nice to have time for some of the projects I've been putting off, but I miss being able to see the people I care about. Going to school was an opportunity to see everyone I've grown close to over the last 3 years. I moved to Georgia without knowing anyone, and the people I've met have become such a huge part of my life. My best friend just had a baby, and I haven't gotten to meet him yet. Another friend has an August wedding this year, and I can't hug her while she decides what to do. Taking online classes where most people have their cameras and microphones off definitely makes class less enjoyable. My grandma on my dad's side is at the end of her life, and I can't go see her because nobody is allowed in nursing facilities. My grandpa on my mom's side had tumors removed from his kidneys this past year, and he can't even go in to his doctor's office to get checked on. My mom and I took him and my grandma over some food, and we had to talk through the screen on the front door. Finally, my fiancΓ© is in Georgia while I'm here in Ohio. It's best that I stay in Ohio since it's where my medical insurance is more widely-accepted, but that hasn't stopped me from thinking about getting a plane ticket back every day. FaceTiming him and our dog doesn't come close to the happiness I get from getting to cuddle up together.

πŸ“š School πŸ“š
I always liked school. I enjoy learning, I make friends with classmates, and it's what will help me to get a job once I'm finally done. Having my classes moved online has not been great. Since the class discussion is hampered by connectivity issues, people being unsure about technology, and the lack of being physically present, many professors have opted to have students post to class discussion boards. This creates more work because we have to write posts to the required length (one of my classes requires 1,000 words or more both before and after lectures) on top of reading for class and spending time in lectures. My law school, like many others, has also changed the grading system to a mandatory pass/ fail system. This means that for each class anyone has this semester, you will get credit or fail the class, but your GPA will stay the same as it was before the semester started. While this relaxed grading system is beneficial to those who may not be able to put as much time into their work or who may not have an ideal place to study, the system prevents anyone from being able to improve their GPA. Myself and many other people in my graduating class purposely took classes which were easier in order to improve our GPAs. In undergrad, I always heard people talk about how "employers don't care about your GPA," but in law school, your GPA is often a major consideration in hiring, especially right out of school. In a state of so much uncertainty, grades may have been among the few things people felt they had some kind of control over.

πŸŽ“ Graduation πŸŽ“
I cannot adequately put into words just how angry and hurt I am that my graduation ceremony got canceled. Graduating law school is a big deal no matter what, but I took a semester off during my second year, and I worked SO hard to make sure I'd still be able to graduate on time with my class. I had to plead my case with the Dean of my law school to demonstrate that I'd still be in compliance with the American Bar Association's standards for earning my degree. I combed through the ABA's requirements and my school's handbook and made an entire binder highlighting why I should be permitted to graduate if I put in the work. The Dean approved my request to graduate, and I put my nose to the grindstone. I took three semesters of credit overloads, and I worked at an internship last summer where I could earn school credit for the work I did rather than getting a paid position. I worked harder than I ever have, and I even managed to make Dean's List and pull my GPA up along the way. The pride I felt in having my hard work pay off and being allowed to graduate this spring was immeasurable. Back in February, a photography company came to our school to take formal graduation portraits. Putting on the sample graduation regalia almost brought me to tears. Getting the email saying commencement was canceled also brought me to tears, but a different kind. I know that the canceled ceremony doesn't take away from the accomplishment, but after everything I did to earn my degree, I was looking forward to a bit of pomp and circumstance. 

⚖️ The Bar Exam ⚖️
The Bar Exam is what determines whether a law school graduate gets to call themself an attorney. It's only offered twice a year: February and July. I was planning to take the Georgia Bar Exam this July, but it's hard to imagine that an exam which requires hundreds of people to gather in one room for hours is going to be permitted to take place when even the summer Olympics are getting canceled. Further, many students are high-risk for contracting the virus, have family members that are high-risk, or have more obligations while the world reacts to the virus. This puts these students in a predicament where they would have to risk their health just to sit for the exam. Many states are postponing the exam until the fall in response to the outbreak. Typically, studying for the Bar becomes a full-time job. The logic is that you need to pass in order to be an attorney, so choosing not to work or earn a paycheck for 2-3 more months is justified to ensure that you can actually do the job that you just spent the last 3 years studying to do.  However, by postponing the exam, this extends the period in which new grads are unable to work at the position they just spent all that time and money on. Plus, student loans are due (fun fact: the average law student graduates with about $100,000 in loans). Many students are also in a position where they have not secured a post-graduate job, and many firms wait until after applicants pass the bar to consider hiring them. Postponing the exam could really hurt many graduates. There is a push to allow graduates to be practicing attorneys by virtue of having graduated from an accredited law school. Wisconsin already has this program in place for anyone who graduates from a law school in the state. Since the subjects tested on the bar exam are already taught and tested in schools, it makes sense that graduates would be knowledgeable enough to practice law competently. After 3 years of school, it's not a stretch of the imagination to think law students know something about the law. Further, many of the subjects on the bar are completely unrelated to what each future lawyer will be practicing. Why make someone study the ins and outs of bankruptcy law when they'll be a divorce lawyer forever? Regardless of how each state chooses to handle the issue, most state bar associations have yet to announce any definite plan. For now, the law school class of 2020 in the dark about their futures.

πŸ’Ό Finding a Job πŸ’Ό
I went to college right after high school, and I went to law school right after college. I've worked a few part-time jobs, a handful of internships, and done a ton of pro bono work, but I don't have much full-time long-term experience. Finding a job in an already-saturated market right out of school can be daunting, but trying to find one with the economy in its current state and during a pandemic has definitely kept me awake at night. I've even started applying to non-law positions since the bar exam is up in the air. If you know anyone in Georgia who's looking to hire a law student with a business degree, please let me know!

πŸ’ Springtime πŸ’
While fall may be my favorite season, spring is a very close second. The smell of flowers blooming, finally getting to put away heavy winter coats and boots in exchange for sundresses, and all the excitement that comes with the looming end of the school year always puts me in a great mood. Now, the only times I get outside is to walk the dog, and I can't justify spending hours on my appearance for a few 30 minute walks. Plus, all my spring attire is in Georgia since I only planned on being in Ohio for a week, and it was snowing during said week. Rather than excitement, there's a gloom in the air, even when it's sunny outside. There's also not much summer fun to look forward to when nobody knows when we'll be out of the woods.

πŸ› Shopping πŸ›
I saved this for last since it's a bit petty (for those of you still reading), but I miss shopping. My favorite stores have been releasing their spring lines, but every time I think I might need a little retail therapy, I catch myself asking what I would actually wear anything new for. I love supporting small and local boutiques and shops, but I also have to worry about my own finances in these uncertain times. I paused my Stitch Fix boxes until things return to some semblance of normal. I daydream about the days when I could go to the mall and window shop with my friends, even if we didn't buy anything. I had my eye on a gorgeous pair of heels that I had planned to add to my graduation ensemble. New outfits were always a way to refresh my closet for spring, and it was a great motivation to get rid of anything I hadn't worn in a while.


Thanks for reading through my rant. It's incredibly cathartic to write out what you're feeling and get it off your chest. What does COVID-19 have you wanting to scream about? Let me know in the comments!

Make today the best page yet,