“Wishing You More Happiness Than Can Fit A Person”: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

“Wishing You More Happiness Than Can Fit A Person”: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

“I wonder if there’s a secret current that connects people who have lost something. Not in the way that everyone loses something, but in the way that undoes your life, undoes yourself, so that when you look at your face it isn’t yours anymore” – Marin

How wonderful would it be if everything in life worked out the way we wanted? If things happened the way we expected them to, the way we wanted them to, then there would be no unpleasant surprises. When Marin, the protagonist of We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, was staying in an empty dorm room, dreading the visit of her friend, Mabel, I assumed that the two girls had had a fight. What the fight was about, I couldn’t guess. Much later in the story, when Mabel confronts Marin about her disappearance, Marin can’t bring herself to talk about her experiences, not because she doesn’t want to talk to Mabel, but because talking about it is too much for her. When she is finally able to talk, she tells Mabel about being questioned by the police, about staying at the motel where a woman was constantly wailing, and the man next door kept staring out the window without moving for days, and where Marin felt scared that she would go just as crazy.

This scene struck a chord in my mind. Marin and Mabel had been best friends for years, and had shared so many memories, but at that moment, when Marin and Mabel are sitting across from each other, Mabel is looking at Marin with a look in her eyes that Marin doesn’t recognize. Perhaps this is because the lack of recognition is mutual – Mabel doesn’t recognize Marin either, the two friends have become strangers. What’s sad about this moment is that Mabel had assumed Marin had been okay, but Marin was far from it. What’s worse is that, if Marin had told Mabel, things could have been different for both of Mabel and herself (or am I wrong in assuming this?). Have you ever experienced that feeling? Of thinking that you knew your friend, but finding out that there were so many things you didn’t know about them? And feeling that you have failed them? In this particular scene, I found myself wondering what I would have felt in Mabel’s shoes, rather than relating to Marin, the protagonist, because I have been there. I had stood on the other side, trying to understand the person whom I thought I knew and understood.

In the end, nothing turns out the way Marin may have wanted, or expected, but Marin is going to be okay. I mean, what else is new? Does anything ever happen the way we want?

My favorite quote is when Marin and Mabel are at the store, shopping for Christmas presents, when Marin looks at Mabel, and thinks, “I wish her everything good. A friendly cab driver and short lines through security. A flight with no turbulence and an empty seat next to her. A beautiful Christmas. I wish her more happiness than can fit in a person. I wish her the kind of happiness that spills over.”

 

<Works Cited>
LaCour, Nina. We Are Okay. Dutton Childrens Books, 2017.

“Jude = x”: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

“Jude = x”:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

When Brother Luke convinces Jude to run away with him, promising him a happy life, Jude is desperate to leave the monastery where every day had been filled with nightmares. When I think about this moment, I think about how horrible it is that people like Brother Luke exist, and how unfortunate it is that they do unimaginable things to people like Jude, who deserve a better life than the one he has been given. Brother Luke gives Jude so much hope, then snatches it away when Jude needs it the most.

When Jude finds Malcolm, Willem, and JB in college, he never reveals anything about himself, both because he doesn’t want to, and because he thinks telling them about who he really is will make them hate him and be disgusted with him. Jude believes this because this is how he feels about himself. The world has treated him horribly from the beginning, and Jude doesn’t want others to find out how insignificant he is. And yet, even as Jude refuses to talk about himself, he becomes friends with people like Willem, Harold, and Andy, who provide an anchor for him to hold on to, as he struggles to barely hold on each day. Jude doesn’t understand why they hang around him, and yet, without them, Jude wouldn’t have a reason to struggle through another day.

At a certain point, Jude wonders about the discrepancy between how he views himself vs how his friends view him:

“[Jude] feels…that his life is something that has happened to him, rather than something he has had any role in creating. He has never been able to imagine what his life might be; even as a child, even as he dreamed of other places, of other lives, he wasn’t able to visualize what those other places and lives would be; he had believed everything he had been taught about who he was and what he would become. But his friends, Ana, Lucien, Harold and Julia: They had imagined his life for him. They had seen him as something different than he had ever seen himself as; they had allowed him to believe in possibilities that he would never have conceived. He saw his life as the axiom of equality, but they saw it as another riddle, one with no name—Jude = x—and they had filled in the x in ways Brother Luke, the counselors at the home, Dr. Traylor had never written for him or encouraged him to write for himself. He wishes he could believe their proofs the way they do; he wishes they had shown him how they had arrived at their solutions.”

The world has made sure Jude believed in his own insignificance. Yet, Jude makes many loyal and loving friends, who are extremely intelligent and successful in their careers. They choose to befriend him, and to take their time and energy to get to know him. In the end, Jude even becomes adopted by Harold and Julia. What is it about Jude that, despite all of his secrets and his reluctance to talk about himself, draws people in?

For me, I think the reason why Jude’s friends value and love him is because Jude provides them with all the love and forgiveness that he does not give himself. Whereas he hates himself and will not budge when people tell him to think otherwise, Jude acts differently when it comes to his friends. Even though there are a few times in the book where Jude’s beauty is mentioned, I think what his friends really value in Jude is his genuine interest, love, and forgiveness for them. Jude accepts them for who they are, and maybe this encourages them to reciprocate the same feelings to him, even if Jude does not believe them. Somehow Jude is able to bottle up all of his hatred for himself, while showering his love and affections to his friends.

There were many horrifying and uncomfortable moments in this book, and after I finished it, I thought about the title, A Little Life. Assuming that this is alluding to Jude and his life, I thought it should be mentioned that, despite everything Jude went through, he still made something out of his life, and that’s admirable of him.

 

<Works Cited>
Yanagihara, Hanya. A little life: a novel. Random House Inc, 2015.

“from what we cannot hold the stars are made”: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“from what we cannot hold the stars are made”:
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“Do you think we’ll ever discover all the secrets of the universe?” (231)

Ari asks this as he and his friends, Susie and Gina, sit in the bed of his truck and look up at all the stars. It is Ari’s favorite thing to do – to drive out to the desert at night in his truck so he can watch the stars.

It starts one summer (for some reason, things always start for Ari in the summer) when Ari’s mother is at him again about how “he doesn’t have any friends”. Even though she isn’t wrong, Ari still resents her for saying it. And on that hottest day of summer, he decides he will go to the pool to spend his time. That’s when Ari (Aristotle) meets Dante, and also when, for Ari, “Dante bec[omes] one more mystery in a universe full of mysteries” (19).

One day, Ari comes down with the flu. While he is bedridden, Dante comes to keep him company. Dante gives Ari a book of poems so he can read while Dante sketches him with charcoal on his drawing pad. Ari falls asleep, and when he wakes up, Dante is gone along with his drawing of Ari, but there is a drawing of Ari’s rocking chair that he left behind. In this drawing, Ari notices how Dante has captured the “afternoon light streaming into the room,” and “the way the shadows fell on the chair and gave it depth and made it appear as if it was something more than an inanimate object” (73). But mostly, he notices how Dante has captured something “sad and solitary” about the chair, and he wonders if this is how Dante sees the world, or if this is how he sees Ari’s world. As an Asian American female, I do not share a lot of similarities with either Ari or Dante, and yet when Ari looks at the picture of the chair and tries to figure out whose world Dante has drawn, I find myself thinking that Dante may have drawn a little bit of each of our – the reader’s – world in that picture, too.

One day, a group of boys shoot BB guns at a bird in a tree, and after Ari manages to scare them away, he notices Dante staring at the dead bird on the ground, with tears running down his face. Ari wonders why it is that “…some guys had tears in them and some had no tears at all?” (55). To be honest, Ari did not feel much for the bird. Yes, it was sad that the innocent bird was killed by stupid boys, but in the end, Ari felt that it was only a bird. However, Dante is heartbroken, and as usual, his face acts as a window to his feelings. On his way home, Ari thinks that, “Dante’s face was a map of the world. A world without any darkness…How beautiful was that?” (55).

To be honest, Ari has a lot going on in his life. His brother is in prison, and everyone acts as though doesn’t exist, even though Ari has dreams of his brother. His father, after coming back from the Vietnam War, has been unreachable, choosing not to share his memories or his haunting dreams with his son. Everyday, Ari misses him more. On top of it all, Ari is a teenager, and he is trying to figure out who he is. And Ari is scared of Dante, because Dante means a lot more to Ari than he would like to admit.

Nevertheless, from his journey with Dante, Ari learns that “One of the secrets of the universe was that our instincts were sometimes stronger than our minds” (261) and that “Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer morning could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder” (261). If your friend was standing in the middle of the road, and you saw a car on the other side coming full-speed at them, would you throw yourself at your friend to save them?

That day, when Dante had given him the book of poems by William Carlos Williams, Ari, flushed with embarrassment and conscious of Dante’s focus on him, had read a line from the book: “from what we cannot hold the stars are made.” (73), and even though he had not understood what it meant, he had thought it was beautiful.

 

<Works Cited>
Sáenz, Benjamin Alire. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Kindle Edition.