Review: Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life

I received an ARC of the book Dear Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
When I saw that this book was being offered, I was thrilled. I have read The Inner Voice of Love, and I loved the powerful way that book impacted me.

While Henri Nouwen died in September 1996, this new book offers a reader new insight into Nouwen, both into his personal life as well as into his mind and words of wisdom and understanding. This new book is a collection of letters that Henri Nouwen sent people over a span of many years. With each letter, we are not able to see what was originally written, but we are given a summary of who each person is and why they wrote to Nouwen.

This book, much like The Inner Voice of Love, is best read in small dosages. The information in the letters does pack a powerful spiritual punch. However, it is the case where if you try to read too much at once, it becomes exhausting. I felt that it was sometimes hard to persevere through the whole book with the timeline that I had for the review. It’s a book best read over several weeks and perhaps months.

This book also nearly serves as an autobiography told through letters as we learn much of the years that Nouwen spent in ministry, the various places he served, what some of the inner conflict he felt actually was in specific terms, and how he came to a place of living his pain well.

If you have ever read and enjoyed a Nouwen book, this book is for you. Again, please read it slowly. It’ll be better that way.

Review: Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner

img_8459

“You love someone and they leave, but they never entirely go away. You feel them there, acutely, like an amputated limb.” —Paula Garner

On September 17, 2016, I had the opportunity to attend a free book launch for Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner. While there, the author described her book by saying, “really it’s about grief.”

How accurate that is.

The story begins about 3.5 years after the death of Otis’s younger brother Mason. While the reader does not know all of the details, the effects of the death are ingrained in Otis’s life.

Otis is a high school swimmer who is pretty good at what he does. His friend Dara has high ambitions for him and creates a rigorous training plan for him in order to launch him to Olympic-level swimming. However, this is not something that Otis necessarily wants but rather perhaps a dead dream of Dara for herself whose swimming career was hampered by the loss of her arm.

Very early into the story, Meg is also introduced. She was best friends with Otis when Mason died, and at that point in time, they were beginning to explore a romantic relationship. After Mason’s death, Meg and her family move away. Now, Meg is coming back for 3 weeks, and Otis must deal with what this means.

What follows is a beautiful tale that admits that grief never ends. It  is there always, an undercurrent to the rest of your life. While there may be days where things may seem to be perfect again or close to perfect, there is ultimately always this missing piece. Sometimes, the pain comes back sharply like the pain some amputees feel from the limb that is no longer there.

18 months ago, I watched my 10 week old nephew die in the PICU at a hospital. It was a completely unexpected and traumatic event. I spent many nights unable to sleep, replaying the events of that day and the week prior. While his death was due to a previously undetected brain tumor, I still felt guilt over his death. I still do in some ways. Often times in fiction books—both with young adult books and adult fiction books, grief seems to have an end point. It seems to come to a point where everything looks bright, shiny, and beautiful again by the end with time.

This book, however, is different. We see how Otis, Meg, and Dara all continue to be impacted by traumatic losses in their past. We see how easy it can be to play the “if only” game to try change the past because the present seems so tainted. For anyone dealing with grief, especially traumatic grief, this book is a painfully beautiful gift. It acknowledges that grief doesn’t always end, but it is also hopeful that the present can still be lived.

Additionally, Garner includes therapists and support groups for grief in this book. While this is something that is written only at a mention, the very fact that both are mentioned and that various characters go to these is ALWAYS a huge deal to include in fiction, especially young adult fiction.

Stunning debut.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Review: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

After reading The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner in April 2016, I fell in love with his writing and his ability to craft a story. When I found out that he had written a new book with a publication date of March 2017, I was thrilled. In my excitement, I somehow connected with the author, and as a result, I received an ARC because of Jeff Zentner.

Goodbye Days is the story of Carver Briggs and his three friends: Eli, Blake, & Mars—as well as Eli’s girlfriend. When the story begins, however, we find out immediately that Eli, Blake, & Mars are dead, and Carver feels personally responsible for their deaths. While Carver was at work one day, he sent a text message to his friend Mars. His friend was driving, presumably looked at the text message, plowed into a truck, and everyone in the car died.

Not only does Carver personally feel responsible for their deaths but he’s also grieving the loss of not just one person but of three—of a friendship group so steeped in traditions that Carver is left very much alone. Worse than that though is the ostracization he goes through when other people also feel he is personally responsible.

Upon the suggestion of Blake’s grandmother, Carver begins a series of “goodbye days” : a day to symbolize the perfect last day for the lives ripped away much too soon.

Zentner is able to craft a story that will resonate strongly with readers of all ages—not just young adult readers. He is able to capture an authentic voice for a male teen who seeks to become a writer. He is able to accurately portray the adults and the different forms that grief can take when the loss of a child is involved.

One of the most stunning things that Zentner does is to also depict panic attacks as Carver begins to experience them. His writing is able to capture what they can indeed feel like as well as make the reader feel deeply when reading about what is happening to Carver. Zentner also has Carver’s sister Georgia care so much for her brother that she basically drags him to a therapist which is ultimately a very helpful person for Carver. This is such an important character to include in a young adult book, and Zentner wrote the character very well.

For fans of The Serpent King, there is a cameo appearance that works extremely well in the pacing of the novel, and the appearance serves as a hopeful message both to Jesmyn (Eli’s girlfriend) and Carver.

Zentner has created an absolutely breath-taking sophomore novel. It is one that will make you feel intensely. It is one that will make you question your own actions and whether or not you are as safe as you feel you are while driving. It is one that will make you think about the fragility of life and about the memories that you would leave behind. Perhaps, and I hope it does, it will make you think how to craft the best story you can for your own life.

When this book officially releases in March 2017, you need to read it, no matter what age.

You can officially pre-order the book on Amazon: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner . Do it.

My official rating: a rare 5 stars out of 5 stars read