Mini-Reviews: Memoirs and Biographies

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo

Heaven is For Real is the story of a little boy who had a near-death experience and went to heaven, where he met Jesus Christ, his grandfather, and experienced many other things. I'm not going to get into the validity of the book -- religion is based on faith, and if you don't have faith, you're going to say this book was a lie, and if you do, you're going to say this book was amazing. For me, I enjoyed the story and thought Colton's experience was very interesting and left quite a bit to ponder. 

3.5 stars

Warnings: None

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

Lucy Grealy was diagnosed with cancer as a young child and spent much of her life undergoing surgeries, chemo, and radiation. While she survived the cancer, it left her face transformed -- much of her lower jaw was removed and despite numerous surgeries, was never fully reconstructed again. Grealy explores the way the pain and fear of cancer affected her, as well as the way her face affected the way others treated her and the way she viewed herself.

I read this book after reading Ann Patchett's memoir of her close friendship with Grealy, Truth and Beauty (which I recommend reading first if you plan on reading both books). Thus, I already had an idea of what Grealy had been through and the way her life played out. However, hearing it in her own voice, so to speak, was incredibly powerful. I am a nurse for children with cancer, and reading this firsthand account of the oddness of her early life was so heartrending. For a while, she didn't even know she had cancer -- obviously she knew there was something wrong, but no one gave that appellation. Her family constantly pressured her to be strong and positive, which left her believing that her fear and pain was not legitimate or acceptable. Later, she always noticed people staring at her, and believed herself unworthy of love due to the fact that she believed she could never be considered beautiful. 

These explorations are dark at times, and the end of Grealy's story is not a happy one, but her thoughts do broach many questions that are important in this society -- a society that values physical appearance very highly and makes lightning judgments based on first impressions. I think Autobiography of a Face poses important questions. And it's a bonus that Grealy is a poet, and her writing is gorgeous. 

3.5 stars

Warnings: Some sensuality, language, thematic material

French Milk by Lucy Knisley

French Milk is a graphic novel of a twenty-something's six week trip to Paris with her mother. I love Paris, and I love the idea of graphic novels, but here's the thing -- this one didn't give me enough. I liked Lucy's random observations, her drawings of art and food, and her voice, but the book just didn't feel like enough. I wanted more details. I'm not sure if that is me not appreciating the art of the graphic novel or the graphic novel not doing a good enough job, but it left me wanting. Also, sometimes Knisley made me mad by doing stupid things, like starting to smoke so she would fit in in Paris. It's not just because I'm a parent that is closer to thirty than twenty that causes me to want to shake some sense into her, is it? Doesn't everyone know that smoking is the worst health decision you could possibly, possibly make? Okay, throwing yourself off a bridge is probably a worse health decision, but seriously, smoking cigarettes is the most preventable risk factor in just about EVERY chronic disease. Okay, taking deep breaths, end of rant. Other than that, I thought she was funny and witty, and I liked her honesty about her grumps and enjoyments.

3 stars

Warnings: Language, endorsement of cigarettes!!, some drawings of nude paintings, talking about non-graphic sex

MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche

I've heard a lot of mixed reviews of MWF Seeking BFF, which disappointed me, because from what I'd heard about it, I thought I would love it, being a recently married twenty-something in a new city myself. Fortunately, for me, this book was everything I hoped it would be and more. I absolutely loved it. I understand the issues that some people had with the book -- at times Bertsche gets too focused on the letter of her quest, frenetically seeking her 52 friend-dates at the risk of her own sanity and at times even her marriage. She also at times bothered me with her desire to find "the" best friend instead of appreciating the great friendships she had (and she had many), and she had a laundry list of what she didn't want. However, first of all, I think she genuinely grows throughout her quest, learning new things about friendship, its importance to her, and the fact that she is able to be friends with people she never would have approached originally. Secondly, as someone trying to make new friends, I appreciated the insights she had on the best places to make friends as well as the research she performed on what causes people to stay friends and make friends. I thought the entire book was engaging and fascinating, and I adored it. Rachel, be my BFF? (Even though I don't meet your distance requirements?)

5 stars

Warnings: Can't think of any

Taylor Swift: An Unauthorized Biography by Liv Spencer

Okay, okay, laugh all you want. Yes, I requested a Taylor Swift biography on NetGalley. I saw it there and just couldn't resist. Don't tell me that you haven't wondered who all those songs were about. That was definitely my primary motive in reading the book.

It was mildly interesting. I liked reading about Swift's pathway to success, and especially her determination and goal-setting. I think she is a good role model for girls, which is refreshing because most teen/young twenties celebrities are making poor decisions. I also loved learning the details about each of her songs. There are chapters that go through information on who each song is about, how Swift came to write it, and other "fun facts." Because my main interest in reading the book was who all those songs were written about, those chapters (entitled "Swift Notes") were definitely interesting to me.

The writing of the book was pure cheese. The author took an almost worshipful stance at Taylor Swift, calling her "Swifty," "The Swift One," and "The Sparkly One." I might have thrown up in my mouth a few times. Also, when describing a line in the song "Picture to Burn," in which Taylor Swift sings, "That's fine, I'll tell mine you're gay," the author quickly explains that on the radio edit, the line has been changed, because "Taylor would never offend anyone." Okay... but she did write the line. I'm not defending or condemning her -- just thought the line was cheesy.

Basically, it did what I wanted it to. But it was cheesy. 

2.5 stars

Warnings: You might throw up in your mouth when you read about "The Sparkly One."

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