I found Here on Earth in a book fair I shouldn’t have gone to but went and, if gone, I shouldn’t have bought anything which was not on my to-read list, but I did (or so I thought). I saw the cover and it instantly jumped out at me. I looked inside to convince myself to buy it, and off went my resolution. Finding it was accident, serendipity or chance, I don’t know. Neither did I know that I would read it over that weekend abandoning another great nonfiction book I was reading. The name seemed familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it till I came home. It was on my Goodreads to-read list. To think I had added it three years back and it has landed on my shelf only now, without me ever searching for it makes me want to attribute it to fate but I doubt Fate bothers itself with such puny things. Happenstance more like.
I never thought I would like magical realism, and lyrical prose usually annoys me but this was different. In a way it reminded me of The Last Song of Dusk, a book I had liked but I wasn’t too keen on reading something like that in the near future. But a fair warning, this is not a romance. It is a cautionary tale of doomed love and obsession.
When we are young we believe in so many unrealistic things, like living in a fairytalish world, where everyone gets what they deserve, and every thing works out in the end. Alas, reality isn’t so simple or straightforward. It doesn’t matter if something is fated or not. It’s how we deal with what has happened and what we ultimately do.Here on Earth makes it amply clear.
There was a line in the book, which I cannot find now (I didn’t stop to copy lines until I was near the finish line), about lions and lambs being warm blooded, which chilled me to the bone. They are not as different as the world makes them out to be. Predator and prey are their ecological roles but they belong to the same class (Mammalia). How could I, a student of biology, not have considered this fact before.
Alice Hoffman’s descriptions are otherworldly but felt so real that you want to believe every single word, and hope it doesn’t break your heart but it does. A thing which isn’t real can feel realer than the everyday reality (that we mostly choose not to dwell on). That is the power of fiction written from a honest place; I am surprised every time it shakes me up and makes me see things anew. Continue reading Thoughts on the characters in Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth
Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is an epistolary novel co-authored by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan whose earlier collaborations include Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Naomi and Eli’s No Kiss List, which caters to teens, just like this one. The cover was appealing but a bit too cutesy for its own good. Heart shaped snowflakes really? But don’t let it deceive you. It is not just a Christmas romance though it is set in the merry times of the Christmas in Manhattan, when snow is in the air and so is good cheer.
It is alternatively narrated by Lily (written by Rachel Cohn) and Dash (written by David Levithan). Dash and Lily write dares and thoughts in a red Moleskine notebook which Dash finds next to Lily’s favourite author (which also happens to be his) while perusing through the books in Strand Book Store (yes the one and only). The idea was devised by Langston (named after Langston Hughes), Lily’s older brother so that she finds someone to share her Christmas excitement with (she loves Christmas like only children can and she is not a child so that does make it a little odd) as he will be busy with his boyfriend and their parents will be out of town.
Lily is a shy teenager, good at football and overprotected by her family. She does not fit in and has no friends at school though her lovable extended family more than makes up for it. Her cousin Mark and Great Aunt Ida make for great secondary characters and play a role in safeguarding the notebook.
Lily’s notebook is picked up by Dash who hates the idea of Christmas. He is an introvert and very comfortable in his own company. A child of divorce, he’s used to taking care of himself and guards his solitude fiercely. Dash’s best friend Boomer, is overexcited and overeager (for his age) not unlike a toddler on a sugar rush; he provides us with many funny moments. I thought theirs would be an unlikely friendship but they complement each other.
Through the impossible dares Dash and Lily accept, designed to push themselves out of their comfort zones, they see new sides to themselves. They grow together and confide their innermost longings to each other in a notebook. Sharing a common ground with an anonymous if not nameless but faceless stranger can be a powerful connection. Would it have been better (read more acceptable) if they had done it face to face or had it been a conversation on the phone? Who cares about the mode of communication, it is the connection that matters. Or is it just plain idiocy trusting someone’s words, someone whom you have never seen or met, in this age of dishonesty? It’s Kali Yug after all.
Here the the barriers in real everyday life appear to dissolve and the playing field is vast. I mean anyone could have picked up that notebook. It goes on to show we how box ourselves and allow others to pigeonhole us with labels, when we can go beyond it and be so much more alive.
Lily and Dash are book nerds hence the usage of words isn’t what would constitute normal teenage banter. Nevertheless the writing is contemporary although you might feel out of your element (read bored) if you don’t share their love for words. Take a look at these lines:
“I particularly loved the adjective bookish, which I found other people used about as often as ramrod or chum or teetotaler.”
“I was horribly bookish, to the point of coming right out and saying it, which I knew was not socially acceptable.”
“We all just took the bookstore at its word, because if you couldn’t trust a bookstore, what could you trust?
Continue reading Thoughts on Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares