“Indeed, nothing awful is without its beautiful side”: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

“Indeed, nothing awful is without its beautiful side”:
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman


“The hiss of the sprinklers is not the sound of snakes. And the painted dolphins on [his] sister’s wall cannot plot deadly schemes. And a scarecrow’s eyes do not see.”

This is what Caden Bosch has to tell himself to try to stop himself from believing these thoughts that are haunting him.

For Caden, there are three different realities: The white plastic kitchen, the ship and the captain, and the world occupied by his friends and family. For him, each of these realities is as real as the other, and he doesn’t know where he is going to be at any given moment.

Caden says in the beginning of the novel:
“There are two things you know. One: You were there. Two: You couldn’t have been there.”
Even though he struggles with these two “truths,” often, he is unsure whether he imagines half of the things he hears people say.

Once, when Caden’s father was driving him and his sister, Mackenzie, his father had an “unusual freak-out moment.” His father was very nervous, and he kept saying that “something [was] wrong,” even though he couldn’t explain exactly what it was. Eventually, Caden spotted the rearview mirror that was at his feet next to his backpack. When he showed it to his father, his father was finally able to calm down. Caden remembers this moment because he wishes it were that easy for him to pinpoint exactly what it is that may be wrong with him.

It first starts when Caden thinks that there is a kid at school who “wants to kill him.” First he suspects this, and that is enough to convince him that it’s true. This thought scares him so much that he goes to his father and blurts out his worry. But when his father asks Caden for details, such as why he thinks the kid wants to kill him, Caden can’t explain. He is only able to tell his dad, “It’s not what he said, it’s what he hasn’t said.” The fact is, Caden doesn’t really know this kid because he doesn’t have any classes with him. It’s a kid Caden “pass[es] in the hallway sometimes.”

Soon, Caden has trouble eating and sleeping. He keeps having troubling thoughts, and even though he cannot explain why he is having these thoughts, he knows that they are just as real as his mother, father, and sister are. Caden says, “…I see things. Not so much see, but feel. Patterns of connection between the people I pass. Between the birds that swoop from the trees. There is meaning out there, if only I can find it.” It’s not that Caden wants to freak his little sister out, or make his parents worried about him. It’s just that he keeps moving from on reality to another, and he doesn’t know which one to believe.

The thing I liked the most about Challenger Deep was Caden Bosch’s voice. Right alongside Caden’s struggle with his inexplicable thoughts is Caden’s voice. As ironic as it sounds, even as Caden loses himself to these different “realities” throughout the novel, Caden maintains who he is at his core: an intelligent and witty individual.

Knowing that her brother is struggling, Caden’s younger sister Mackenzie tells him, “Remember when we used to make forts out of cardboard boxes on Christmas?” With a smile, Caden says, “Yeah. That was fun.” Mackenzie then says to him, “Those forts were so real, even though they weren’t, you know?”

Caden Bosch’s journey to his own Challenger Deep is awful for himself and his family, but it is not without its many beautiful sides.


<Works Cited>
Shusterman, Neal. Challenger Deep. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

“Before Your Eyes Close Forever”: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

“Before Your Eyes Close Forever”:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

There is a stone called “the Sea of Flames.” It is “a brilliant blue, the blue of tropical seas” with ”a touch of red at its center, like flames inside a drop of water” (20). Centuries ago, a prince plucked it from a stone from a dry riverbed in Borneo because of its beauty. The legend goes that “[t]he keeper of th[is] stone would live forever, but so long as he kept it, misfortune would fall on all those he loved one after another in unending rain” (429). It is said that this stone is inside a vault at the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, where Maurie-Laure’s father works as the master locksmith. Maurie-Laure, a girl who has been blind since she was six years old, is not sure if she wants to believe this.

Marie-Laure remembers the first time when she was able to find her way home without her father’s help:
Right. Then straight. They walk up their street now, she is sure of it. One step behind her, her father tilts his head up and gives the sky a huge smile. Marie-Laure knows this even though her back is to him, even though he says nothing, even though she is blind – Papa’s thick hair is wet from the snow and standing in a dozen angles off his head, and his scarf is draped asymmetrically over his shoulders, and he’s beaming up at the fallen snow (41).
Daniel LeBlanc always found ways to create a safe world for his daughter.

When Germany invades France, Marie-Laure and her father go to stay at her great-uncle’s house in Saint-Malo. In the attic of Entienne’s (Maurie-Laure’s great-uncle) house is a radio transmitter. When Entienne was young, he and his brother, Henri, used to broadcast their own recorded programs for children on the radio. When Henri was killed in the Great War, Entienne came home and built his own radio transmitter so he could broadcast the recordings again. As he confesses to his great-niece, Maurie-Laure, “…I wasn’t trying to reach England. Or Paris. I thought that if I made the broadcast powerful enough, my brother would hear me. That I could bring him some peace, protect him as he had always protected me” (161). When Maurie-Laure asks, “You’d play your brother’s own voice to him? After he died?…Did he ever talk back?” he replies that “No…He never did” (161). Even though Entienne could not reach Henri, he is able to reach two children in Zollverein, Werner and his sister Jutta.

At the orphanage in the coal-mining town of Zollverein, a boy named Werner and his sister, Jutta, listened to the radio as a man with a velvety voice told them:  “Open your eyes…and see what you can with them before they close forever” (48-49).

Once, Jutta asked Werner, “Is it right to do something only because everyone else is doing it?” During WWII, Werner found the opportunity to do what he believed was the right thing.


<Works Cited>
Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel. Simon & Schuster, 2014.

“The Firewoman’s Children”: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

“The Firewoman’s Children”:
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


Split the Castle open,
find me, find you.
We, two, felt sand,
wind, air.
One felt whip. Whipped,
once shipped.

We, two, black.
Me, you.
One grew from
cocoa’s soil, birthed from nut,
skin uncut, still bleeding.
We, two, wade.
The waters seem different
but are same.
Our same. Sister skin.
Who knew? Not me. Not you. (282)

This is the poem that Marjorie Agyekum recites in front of her school.

Many years ago, a firewoman had two daughters, Effia, and Esi. These two sisters never had the chance to know or meet each other in their lives – since one was an Asante and the other was a Fante – but they each carried a necklace from their mother, “a black stone pendant that shimmered as though it had been coated in gold dust” (16).

One day, Effia got married to James Collins, a British governor, and she went to live with him at the Cape Coast Castle. When Effia heard noise coming from the small holes in the ground, she asked her husband if there were people down there. In response to her question, James grabbed her shoulders, looked her straight in the eyes, and said “Yes” (17). Effia wanted to return home, but it was too late by then. Unbeknownst to her, the noise she heard was coming from the dungeon which was right below where she was standing, and at that very moment, her own sister Esi was trapped in there among other women.

Fast forward, and a young man named Marcus is doing research at Stanford University. Even though he wants to focus his work on “the convict leasing system” (289), he realizes that he cannot talk about one piece of history on its own because of the continuity and connectedness of history. He feels that if he chooses to focus on only one aspect of history, he is choosing to leave out other pieces that may contain valuable explanations, connections, and clues as to the answers he is searching for. And this is what Gaya’s novel shows, through all of the characters and their lives that it portrays. Gaya’s novel shows that, in order to truly understand who we are, and how we have become who we are, we need to look at our parents for answers, and their parents, and their parents, and so on. In other words, to truly understand ourselves, we need to make a long journey “home,” to where it all started. There can’t be a “beginning,” a “middle,” or an “end,” because it is all connected.

Many years later, Marjorie tells Marcus, “My grandmother used to say we were born of a great fire. I wish I knew what she meant by that” (295). She has the same necklace as the ones the firewoman gave her two daughters, and when she and Marcus are both at the Cape Coast, she gives the necklace to him, and she tells him, “Welcome home” (300).

<Works Cited>

Gyasi, Yaa. Homegoing. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.

“Like Old Roses On A Breeze”: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

“Like Old Roses On A Breeze”:
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

“The God of Loss. The God of Small Things. He left no footprints in sand, no ripples in water, no image in mirrors.” (Roy, 250)

The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy is about two twins, Estha and Rahel, and the man they loved, the God of Small Things. Estha and Rahel are twins from Kerala, India, where the caste system governs people’s lives. Rahel, with her hair tied up – “her fountain in a Love-in-Tokyo” (101), and Estha with “his beige and pointy shoes and his Elvis puff” (37), experience a world that is governed by the Love Laws, Laws “[t]hat lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much” (311). In the end, the twins themselves defy these very rules that “ma[de] grandmothers grandmothers, uncles uncles, mothers mothers, cousins cousins, jam jam, and jelly jelly” (31).

To start from the beginning, Estha and Rahel are twins, Esthappen “older by eighteen minutes” (4), and as little kids, they learn that “the world had…ways of breaking men” (8), and that the smell of broken men was “Sicksweet. Like old roses on a breeze” (8). What is important to understand here is that Estha and Rahel share an incredible connection. As the narrator says:

In those early amorphous years when memory had only just begun, when life was full of Beginnings and no Ends, and Everything was Forever, Esthappen and Rahel thought of themselves together as Me, and separately, individually, as We or Us. (4-5)

Estha and Rahel can hold a conversation together in their heads, where they can choose to verbally state their thoughts, or they can choose to stay silent. There is even a time when Estha and Rahel end up staying in different rooms at a hotel, and when Estha decides to walk to Rahel’s room at night, Rahel is already waiting to open the door for him. Even when they are not together physically, the two share their experiences. As the narrator reveals, “[Rahel] has other memories too that she has no right to have. She remembers, for instance (though she hadn’t been there), what the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man did to Estha in Abhilash Talkies. She remembers the taste of the tomato sandwiches — Estha’s sandwiches, that Estha ate — on the Madras Mail to Madras. And these are only the small things” (5). So what surprise does the world have for these twins?

Estha and Rahel experience painful things that children their age should never have experienced. However, even though it is painful for me to admit, I have no doubt that many children at Estha and Rahel’s age go through traumatic experiences. We, as parents, siblings, family members, or friends, do not want people of certain age to experience certain things. However, Roy’s novel makes me wonder about the validity of this very thought – “children, or people, of certain age should never experience the following things: x, y, z.” In a way, I think that the Love Laws that govern Estha and Rahel’s society – and our society – can be so restrictive, binding, and prejudiced, but they have been around for so long that we would not know where to start if they were to be changed. Or am I mistaken in this thought?

The God of Small Things could be one person, or he could be a people. Chacko, Rahel and Estha’s uncle, says something that captures the idea of “the God of Small Things” perfectly:

We’re Prisoners of War…Our dreams have been doctored. We belong nowhere. We sail unanchored on troubled seas. We may never be allowed ashore. Our sorrows will never be sad enough. Our joys never happy enough. Our dreams never big enough. Our lives never important enough. To matter. (52)

By stating this, Chacko becomes the God of Small Things for this one moment. At least, that is the impression I got from reading the novel. The God of Small Things is anyone who has been oppressed by laws, whose sorrows, joys, dreams, and lives can never be important enough. Or did I get the wrong impression? (What do you think?)

By the end of the novel, Rahel and Estha lose their God of Small Things. After having been forced to drift apart for awhile, the “Dizygotic” twins (4), also known as “Mrs. Eapen and Mrs. Rajagopalan, Twin Ambassadors of God-knows-what” (293), one with her “fountain in a Love-in-Tokyo,” and the other with “his beige and pointy shoes and his Elvis puff,” no longer children, and no longer naive, come back together to cross the boundaries set by the Love Laws once and for all.


Works Cited:
Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things: A Novel. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.



“A Nightingale’s Song”

“A Nightingale’s Song”
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

(*Minor Spoiler Alert*)

“I hope you never know how fragile you are, Isabelle.”
“I’m not fragile,” she said.
The smile he gave her was barely one at all. “We are all fragile, Isabelle.” (199)

The conversation above is between Isabelle Rossignol and her father, Julien Rossignol, who, after his return from the Great War, and after his wife’s death, has never been the same.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is about many things – it’s about WWII and how it broke families and individuals, as they witnessed the deaths of many of their loved ones. It’s about how the war changed relationships between friends, neighbors, parents, and children. Mostly, this book is about the bond between two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle Rossignol and how they risk their lives to keep what is rightfully theirs. Vianne and Isabelle assume that they would have a lifetime to fight with each other, misunderstand each other, to feel regret afterwards, and to still love each other through it all as sisters. However, all of this turn out to be luxuries they cannot afford once WWII begins. The Second World War brings Isabelle, Vianne, and their father back together as family, but it does not allow them time to tell each other what they weren’t able to say before – that they loved each other despite everything, and that they forgive each other.

Isabelle thinks:
“Why hadn’t she told them she loved them every day when she had the chance? And now she would die without ever saying a word to Vianne. Vianne, she thought. Only that. The name. Part prayer, part regret, part good-bye” (363).

Vianne thinks:
“The regret she felt was immense, as was the guilt. What had her last words to her sister been? Don’t come back” (366).

Sisters say things all the time. Sometimes what one sister says to the other can leave a scar, but the same sister comes back to heal the wound. That’s what sisters do. Isabelle and Vianne reminded me of myself and my sister, and it scared me to imagine what they must have felt when they realized there wasn’t any time.

Despite of everything that the war brings, those who manage to survive manage to live through the rest of their lives, while holding on to their memories of the people they have lost. As one of her characters state in the novel, Kristin Hannah’s novel shows that, “Wounds heal. Love lasts. We remain” (438).


<Works Cited>
Hannah, Kristin. The Nightingale. St. Martins Press, 2015.