Hidden Figures – Magot Lee Shetterly

Here i review the book based on the true story of the female minds behind the early days of space exploration

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hidden-figures

Hidden Figures is the novel by Margot Lee Shetterly, based on the true story of the women behind the space programs in the mid twentieth century. The novel focuses upon the efforts of America to get a man into orbit around the earth, as well as the mission to get the first man on to the moon. Shetterly uses this novel to tell us this previously untold story of a group of black women who were behind much of the maths and calculations that made these missions happen.

Hidden Figures is a true but untold story, so it is difficult to dislike, as it is so unique. It was great to read about how these women fought both racial and gender struggles in order to do the job that they were doing. And what was also fascinating was reading about how some of these women were thought of as being ‘computers’. At a time when we are surrounding with technology it’s hard to imagine a time when computers and calculators did not exist to carry out our work and mathematics. But the reality is, of course there was a time like this. And at this time it was people with ridiculous maths skills that would be in charge of making these calculations – often they were calculations that would mean life or death.

So, from the perspective of Hidden Figures being a big eye opener and a reality check for somebody who takes technology and pretty much life for granted, Shetterly’s novel is a great read. However, for me, I simply felt there were too many scientific and mathematical references. I felt because I am not somebody from that world and I don’t have a real grasp on space and maths, that I struggled to keep track and follow everything that was happening. Obviously for a book that is telling the story of these women in the space program it would be impossible to not include the science and maths, as that is the story. However, unfortunately for me, I did struggle with the novel a little bit.

I feel that Shetterly did a great job in bringing this story to the forefront of many minds, and it was great to learn that a program such as NASA, which most would associate with white males, actually had so many strong and powerful black females at its core. So, I would recommend this book for anybody who is after a book with something a bit different happening and something whereby you can learn from. However, if you’re like me and get a bit bogged down with terminology and references that you don’t necessarily understand, I would not recommend that you read Hidden Figures. Simple because I feel, like myself, you might find reading this book a bit more of a chore than a pleasure. That being said though, in 2016 Hidden Figures was adapted into a film. This I found to be so much more accessible, and allowed me to come to grips with the story so much more. So, although I am not here to recommend films, this is one I would recommend.

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Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

Seen the movie? Well, why not read the book?

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Fight Club is the 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk. The novel focuses upon an unnamed protagonist who sets up a ‘secret’ club allowing men to fight one another. You’ve surely heard the number one rule about fight club in your lifetime, ‘The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club’, well this is the origins of that reference. And, I apologise in advance for breaking this crucial rule.

I first read this book as part of my university course, on a module that explored the representations of masculinity in fiction. So, I’m finding it slightly hard to look at this novel without the discussions we had at university niggling away at me. For me, Palahniuk’s Fight Club is all that masculinity is. It demonstrates that archetypal need to prove ones masculinity continuously. I mean it is a novel about the creation of a fight club, a fight club that allows men to escape their everyday and act in violent ways, ways that society views as masculine. So, understandably it is painfully hard not to talk about this novel without referencing the portrayal of the masculine figure.

I felt that Palahniuk’s novel was too much of a blanket statement. By this I mean that the novel only portrayed males as being this architype of masculinity. I don’t recall hearing of a male character that knew about the club turn their nose up to it. Instead we were given male after male who felt they needed to be involved, and ultimately prove how masculine they were. Maybe this was the point though, that within every male there is that man who is struggling with their identity and struggling to accept their masculinity. Either way I felt it would have been more interesting to include somebody who did not bow down to these pressures, somebody who could see the club for what it was; a performance. Therefore, for me, although this novel attempts to portray masculinity it does not do a rounded job, as in reality not all men are like this.

That being said though, I did enjoy the way that Palahniuk wrote this novel. It is only a short novel of around 210 pages, yet he included such a brilliant plot twist that books of twice the length are unable to achieve. We know throughout the novel that the unnamed protagonist is an insomniac and that he has a friend Tyler who he talks about a lot. In fact, it was Tyler who the protagonist sets up the fight club with. Yet, what I was not expecting was the shocking twist of events towards the end of the novel. Which, if you read Fight Club yourself, you will find flips the plot and puts into question the events of the entire novel.

I think it’s safe to say that everybody knows of the movie adaptation of Fight Club. I, myself, have not actually seen it – and no I don’t live under a rock. So, I cannot compare the novel with the film in anyway. Though, after reading Palahniuk’s novel I will definitely be adding Fight Club to my list of ‘movies to watch’, as I am very intrigued as to how this novel has been adapted for the screen.

Palahniuk’s novel has a lot of violence and aggressive imagery in it, so if that is something that you don’t like reading, then obviously this book is not for you. However, I would recommend this book if you are interested in stereotypical masculine behaviours. Though, like I previous said, don’t be expecting a rounded evenly weighted argument of masculinity, as you will not get it.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Like a good classic? Why not check out the 19th century novel from Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of Oscar Wilde’s only novels. It is a gothic novel which follows the character of Dorian Gray and his demise after he sells his soul to the devil for beauty. Written in 1890, this novel is an interesting read as it was used as evidence during Wilde’s trial for gross indecency and relations with another man. At the time it was claimed that Wilde’s work emulated his own feelings in regards to homosexuality. Wilde even went on to add a prologue, which argues against the idea that his novel demonstrates his homosexual feelings. He argued that art can be created for the sake of it, that often there are no deep meanings behind art; it is just there to be enjoyed.

Believe it or not, previous to my introduction to The Picture of Dorian Gray I have not had much experience with Wilde and his work. I personally struggle to connect with literature which is regarded as being ‘classic’. This may be because I have been continuously made to study them, and thus have found myself not enjoying them. However when I came across Wilde’s book I was pleasantly intrigued. I love a good gothic novel anyway, but the concept of selling ones soul for the sake of beauty was truly intriguing. I mean, I’m sure we all know somebody that would seriously consider this to stay young and beautiful forever, right?

The Picture of Dorian Gray is only a short novel, so I found myself getting through it quite quickly. This is helped by how well written and fluid Wilde’s work is. The speed that I got through it even had me questioning how it could be a 19th century novel. Though, that’s because of my personal experience with novels from this time period.

What I liked most about The Picture of Dorian Gray though was the character of Dorian himself. I loved how over such a short novel we saw such a progression in his character. The novel is set out over the course of many years, and in this time Dorian goes from a very well respected young man to a soulless murderous villain. And for me, this was exciting to read, to discover how far somebody can fall when they have made the decisions that Dorian had made. It was interesting to read how his decisions over this time were haunting him both mentally and physically. Wilde certainly has you questioning some of the decisions you go on to make after reading this novel.

I lack any negative comments regarding this book, though this may be because of how happy I am to have found a ‘classic’ that I love. I definitely think this Wilde’s novel is worth a read, whether you like the classics or not. It is a novel that leaves you reflecting on numerous themes, such as beauty, youth and greed. And, any novel that keeps you thinking and reflecting on what has been discussed is definitely a book worth reading.

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Teacher’s Pet – Hayley McGregor

Are books based on true stories your thing? Well, here i review the book that tells Hayley’s harrowing story

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Teacher’s Pet is the very true story of Hayley Mcgregor. Hayley was groomed and abused by her teacher in school, from the age of 12. It took Hayley twenty years though to realise what she went through was wrong. This is Hayley’s side of the story, as to what she experienced all those years ago, how she came to report those experiences to the police and what happened during the legal process.

It’s difficult to judge a book like Teacher’s Pet, this is for two reasons: 1. it is not a story from the imagination, you cannot really judge how the story progressed and how it ends, because it is a real life story, one that cannot and should not be manipulated for effect. 2. The writing and style just simply does not matter, yes if it is illegible it will be a struggle, but this book is not about how well it is written. It is simply a book trying to tell somebody’s side of the story and to spread a message.

That being said though, I found McGregor’s book to be a very good read. I’m not sure whether it was ghost written or not, though I’m not entirely sure that even matters. What I really liked though was the first few pages of the book, where McGregor gives a brief outline of what her story is about, and explains why she is telling her story. In this section of Teacher’s Pet the punishment of her abuser is divulged. Some might see this as a mistake, as the reader’s incentive to read on and see what became of the abuser is diminished. However, I found this to be the opposite, I was even more inclined to read on to discover Hayley’s own story. And, despite having the ending handed to me in the opening pages, I found that I read on and on finishing the book in a day.

You can’t help but have total admiration for Hayley after you have read this book. To have gone what she has gone through, from the abuse, to rocky relationships, to severe depression, and then to the realisation of what had really been happening to her. It really is remarkable how she is still fighting. Hayley did not need to write this book, she did not need to have her name publically known, but the fact she did is so important. Teacher’s Pet is allowing Hayley to spread her message and to reach those that may not realise what they too have been through or what they are currently going through. Teacher / Child relationships – I’m sure it is a topic we are all familiar with in one way of another. But, it is not a topic that I often see being severely frowned upon, and this book itself is testament on why both adults and children need to educate themselves on handling these types of situations.

So, if you are thinking about reading a true story next, or simply interested in how teacher/student relationships occur, as I was, I would highly recommend Teacher’s Pet. Although Hayley discusses sexual encounters in this book, I would not say it is too explicit. Therefore, I would encourage young adults and teenagers to read it, if only to open your eyes to the consequences and the trauma that can occur in these situations.

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A Poem for Every Night of the Year – Ed. Allie Esiri

in this post I move from reviewing novels to reviewing poetry

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So I know this blog is called find my fiction and it mainly focusses on novels, but I just wanted to share this book I had purchased quite recently. It is very simplistically called A Poem for Every Night of the Year and is edited by Allie Esiri. The book is exactly as the title suggests, it is a book full of 365 poems for you to devour each night before bed.

Now, I am not somebody who loves poetry, and I always dreaded studying it at school, college and even university. However, when I came across this book I just could not resist it. Mainly because it is just a beautifully decorated book, but also because I loved the idea of a book which could possibly open my eyes to the apparently great world of poetry. What is great about this selection of poems is the range of poets that are incorporated, from more classics such as T.S Elliott to some more modern and contemporary poets such as Tony Mitton. Allowing for a great range of poetry for you to discover, meaning there’s definitely something for everybody.

I came across this book on Amazon, and when I was reading the descriptions and the reviews I got the impression this book was more for children. I would strongly disagree with this view, and say that this book is for everybody. Some poems are silly and accessible for children, but some poems are far more complex than they may be able to grasp. So, I would say that this book definitely should not just be marketed for children. Though I agree it is a good tool to use to get children into poetry and all its forms.

Whether you are a child or an adult reading this book I feel you would appreciate, like I do, the short descriptions that Esiri includes prior to each poem. These descriptions give us a short insight into the mind of the poet, their inspiration or even some context. This I feel makes the reading experience far more enjoyable, because if you’re like me and a real poetry novice, the descriptions help to make more sense of the poetry in front of you.

If you have not already guessed, I would highly recommend A Poem for Every Day of the Week. Whether you are a poetry enthusiast or a bit a novice, you will find something in these pages that really sparks your imagination. – Though with 365 poems, I believe this will happen numerous times.

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Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon

Have you seen the trailer? Well, here I review the novel by Nicola Yoon

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Everything Everything is the 2015 debut novel by Nicola Yoon. It has recently come back into the ‘limelight’ due to the soon to be released film adaptation. The novel tells the story of a young girl, Maddy, and her budding relationship with the boy next door, Olly. The twist with this first love story is that Maddy suffers from Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), an illness which means she is allergic to everything and is unable to leave the house.

I do not know a lot about SIDC, so I cannot comment on its portrayal in this novel. However, I thought the story itself provided an interesting and thought provoking read. Everything Everything is simply an exploration of the lengths we will go to, and the risks we take, for love. One of my favourite aspects of the novel was this progression in Maddy. Somebody, who at the beginning of the novel simply accepted her situation, locked in the confines of her house. Yet, by the end of the novel we see how she has progressed into a life loving, adventure seeking woman with a thirst for life. Maddy was certainly a character that I routed for throughout the novel, one that I felt very much invested in. This, I must add, is a reaction to a character I have not had in a while. So, thank you Nicola.

I found Everything Everything to be a very quick read. Alongside a fantastic story, which leaves you wanting more, it has a very unique style and layout. The chapters of the novel are often very short, with some ‘chapters’ only last a few lines. So, if you’re somebody is conscious about paper wastage, maybe this book is not for you. Yoon’s husband, David Yoon also provided the novel with many great illustrations, which you will see throughout the novel. With the illustrations and the often extremely short chapters it is understandably why you may finish this, as I did, in one sitting.

I found this style that Yoon used to be very refreshing, and a very accessible way to write a book, as you are not bogged down by pages and pages of complicated writing. This I feel makes Everything Everything a perfect read for young adults. And with the novel focussing of young and first love I feel this book will appeal even more for young adult readers!

The only problem I found with this novel is that I found the ending and its twist to be very predictable. This appears to be happening very often to me, that I am finding myself disappointed as I have already worked out the plot. Maybe I will have to stop expecting unpredictability, or maybe I’m just not reading the right novels. Either way, I was a little disappointed that the story was so easily guessed. On a positive note though, because I had routed for Maddy’s character and for her journey so much, I was equally pleased with how Yoon closed the novel. So maybe shocking, unpredictable, wow factors are not everything?

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Lion: A Long Way Home – Saroo Brierley

stepping way from the fiction, here i review Saroo Brierley’s true story

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Lion: A Long Way Home is the true story of Saroo Brierley. The memoir tells the story of how a five-year-old Saroo boarded a train and got lost in India, and what has happened to him in the twenty-five years since this train journey. The first half of the book focuses on the struggles Saroo faced as a young boy lost in India. We learn of his experiences sleeping on the streets, how he was saved (twice) by a homeless man and how he was taken in by an orphanage. The second half of the book explores his adoption to Australia, his accomplishments and most importantly how he goes on to find his way back home to India.

This was a remarkable story, it seems incredible that a young boy lost so far from home would go on to make the journey that Saroo did. Even more so when you learn that Saroo finding his home town in India all these years later was a mere accident. However, the book itself was a little disappointing. The first half of Brierley’s story was great; it was full of interesting anecdotes and information. However, the second half I found began to feel a little repetitive. Brierley describes how he would spend hours upon hours searching on Google Earth for his village in India. Although understandably this was a repetitive act, I just felt that the book did not need this section to be quite so stretched out. It simply felt that Brierley was attempting to fill space so a book could be marketed.

Lion: A Long Way Home is also, for the majority, a story relying on very old memories. Often because of this, I would find myself questioning how reliable this story is. I understand people are different; sometimes traumatic experiences live with us very clearly, and sometimes our subconscious blocks out this trauma. So, I will not go into too much depth. But, there were a few moments in the first half of the book, when Saroo would have been very young, where I found myself questioning Saroo’s recollections – as it did not seem believable that these memories would still be so clear.

Saroo Brierley’s book was a pleasant read, the writing and grammar was decent so there were no problems with struggling to read it. However, there just seemed to lack a little something extra. I also felt as though the book could have been condensed much further and still have produced the same affect. So, although Brierley’s story was remarkable, I’m not so sure this was the best platform to tell this story. If you have not heard about it already, this book was adapted into a film, starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman. I’m no film critique, however I found the film to be far better, and I enjoyed it far more than the book.

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