“Do You Hear Me?”: A Review of Larry Tremblay’s ‘The Orange Grove’

Please Note: This review discusses suicide bombings, terror organisations, and violence against refugees, particularly children. In light of recent and ongoing attacks happening worldwide, I understand if this review is distressing as a result of its sensitive subject matter and I understand if you are not currently in the right emotional or mental space to continue to read this review. I have approached my review of The Orange Grove with the deepest respect for all victims of suicide bombings, terror attacks and other acts of senseless violence, and I send all my love to the victims of these attacks worldwide.

 

Larry Tremblay’s The Orange Grove is one of those books that change you. It fundamentally changes how you think and feel about a major contemporary issue. But it is also a book that makes you feel conflicted about that change, largely because that issue here is suicide bombings.

This book follows the story of young twins Ahmed and Aziz, who live with their parents and grandparents next to the family’s orange grove in the shade of the mountains. However, when their grandparents die as a result of a bomb being dropped on their house, the family is forced to confront the violence of the country’s civil war. A local militant group comes to the house to recruit one of the boys to strap on a belt of explosives and detonate it on the other side of the mountain, taking not only the lives of the believed bombers of their grandparents house, but also their own life. The catch: their parents have to decide which of their nine year old sons to sacrifice for the cause, the healthy Ahmed, or the terminally ill Aziz.

I’ll be honest. It was hard to read this book. Not because it wasn’t a good book, but because it was a brilliant book about something that is terribly and heartbreakingly real – the problem of violence committed by people who believe that their violent acts are justified and necessary.

I want to make it clear that in no way does this book justify suicide bombings, or indeed any other act of violence. Instead, it makes readers think about the term ‘victim’ in a more nuanced way, including those who are deliberately misled and coerced into committing acts of violence on behalf of organised terror groups in that victim label. When one of these boys walks over the mountain to blow himself and the believed perpetrators of his grandparents death, he is just as much a victim of the violence as the victims of his explosives belt. Especially since he and his family have deliberately been misled to think that the other side of the mountain holds military warehouses that are used to destroy the citizens on the orange grove side.

The other side of the mountain holds a refugee camp.

After sacrificing their son for what they had been led to believe was an act of rebellion against military brutality, the family is then left to live with the knowledge of what their son’s death was really for – the push for power by the leader of the local terror group. And that makes any reader’s heart break. You know from the way this family speaks to each other, how they love their community and how much they want peace, that they had no idea they were being misled. You can’t help but realise they are just as much victims as any person on the other side of the mountain – pawns in someone else’s game.

I am always interested in reading books from the perspectives of characters that have traditionally been rendered as side characters or background noise in novels. By taking this family, particularly the two boys Ahmed and Aziz, and positioning them as both perpetrators of violence and also victims of the local terror group, Tremblay has forced us to take a more nuanced look at how we view acts of violence worldwide. The victim/perpetrator binary is a far too simplistic way to discuss these events, and by breaking down the binary and forcing a discussion about the long lasting effects of these events on both sides of any act of violence, we are better positioned to consider solutions to these acts.

Beyond the violence, this book is about brotherhood, about the bond between Ahmed and Aziz, and about the love they have for each other. Both of them is scared for the other, and yet, it is the sacrifice of one brother in the name of the other that ultimately defines this book. I won’t reveal which brother dies, but I will say that perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the whole book comes from the brother who survives. For anyone who reads this books, you will find that the last section of this book from the perspective of the twenty year old survivor who leaves his home country for a better life is the hardest to read. Living with survivor’s guilt, and the knowledge that his twin died killing innocent people, it is the monologue that concludes the book that perhaps gives the greatest insight into the devastation of victimhood and pain. The final words that echo after the turn of the last page still haunt me:

“Do you hear me?”

Because we don’t often hear the people on the other side, the people who have been consistently demonised by media because of their actions. Yes, terrorism, suicide bombing and other acts of violence are awful events, but we are never the only victims. And we need to be careful about who we blame for these events. After reading this book, it is clear that in the circumstances of The Orange Grove, the leader of the local terror group deliberately lying to local families is the one who is responsible for all the pain, violence and death – but in real life, it is not always so simple to see this. So we need to be careful. Not all people who press the button want to be there, and not all of them know who they are ‘fighting’.

This is an extremely complex and compelling book by a Canadian author whose work I will continue to follow, and I encourage you to read this incredible book if only to challenge your conception of the victim/perpetrator binary. As always, I want to make mention of the incredible work of the translator of this novel, Sheila Fischman, who translated this book from Quebec French into English for Peirene Press. Without translator such as Fischman, so much work from non-English speaking writers would be lost to us and I am incredibly grateful for their work.

Of course, the experiences shown in this book do not represent the circumstances of all terror attacks or suicide bombings, and in the wake of recent events, I feel it is especially important to make it clear that this book is not representative of the backstory of every instigator of violent attacks. But, nonetheless, I think that this book should be read as part of our self-education, particularly at a time where media representations of the ‘other’ are becoming increasingly political and difficult to navigate.

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Larry Tremblay’s The Orange Grove is available from June 2017 in all good bookstores, or directly from Peirene Press. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Peirene Press for sending me a copy of The Orange Grove. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

 

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

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“With All His Aching Heart”: A Review of ‘RELEASE’ by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is one of those authors whose name you know even if you have never read a single one of his books. You have seen his books in bookstores, in your libraries and even in the hands of your friends. But if ever there was a time to pick up a Patrick Ness novel, it is now.

Release, the newest book from Ness, has been published this month, and it is a total gem. The book follows Adam who is having one of the most confronting days of his life. From friends moving away to family issues to relationship crises to workplace harassment and down to his own struggle to feel loved by the people around him, Release unabashedly tackles some of the most poignant themes and issues of being a young person with eye opening clarity.

Release carries with it echoes of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, a deliberate choice acknowledged by the author both in his author’s note and in the opening line of the novel – “Adam would have to buy the flowers himself.” I have never been the biggest fan of Mrs Dalloway, but Ness’ homage to the classic is brilliantly done. Much like Mrs Dalloway, Release takes place over the course of a single day with flashes of the past colouring the book in vivid detail. More than that, it is a carefully preserved flash of what it is like to be a young person in a world that is often still stuck in the past.

Release also owes a debt of gratitude to Judy Blume’s infamous Forever. The frank and somewhat explicit depictions of sex, discussions around loss of virginity and the boundaries of love and sex in relationships are crucial in the telling of this story, particularly when it comes to Adam’s ability to recognise and define his own attachments to other people. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing X-rated in these pages, but I would not recommend this book to younger readers. In my opinion, Release fits more aptly into the category of New Adult fiction than young Adult fiction, but I leave this up to your own judgement.

What made this book different from the typical Young Adult/New Adult novels I have read about young love, sex, and identity, was the strange yet stunning intertwinement of the ghost storyline into the book. At times, the sudden break in Adam’s storyline and shift into the perspective of the faun spirit following his Queen seemed abrupt and weird, yet it was entrancing all the same. Stemming from the news of the death of a local girl at the hands of her meth-head boyfriend, the spirit storyline brought with it the same sort of power as Adam’s storyline, as Katie, the young dead girl, confronts the people she knew in life, including her murderer, to enact her final judgements upon them. Paralleled with Adam’s grief and difficulties with his family, the spirits give the reader a chance to see what anger could have done to him in his times of pain, and what vengeance he could enact on the people who hurt him. However, it is Adam’s choice to be vulnerable and open to love that makes him fundamentally different, and what inadvertently ends the rage of the spirits.

My one criticism of this novel is the open thread left regarding the sexual harassment Adam faces at work from his boss. Seeing the struggle Adam has with the imbalance of power and the potential consequences of reporting his boss, alongside his own father’s doubt about the legitimacy and basis of the crime is one of the parts of this novel that really got at me, and so I would have liked to have seen some closure regarding this particular event. The novel ends with Adam’s co-workers pledging to help him get justice for the harassment, but ultimately, I think that I would have liked to see more done here. In saying that though, the conversation Adam has with his father about the sexual harassment and blackmail is one of the most heartbreaking discussions I have read in fiction lately, especially when it concludes with Adam’s father blaming Adam’s homosexuality for the advances from his boss, and final admission that he doesn’t love his son unconditionally – “You have know idea how much I work to love you”. Those words were a punch to the gut for both Adam and I.

Ness’ prose is exquisite. The ease and pulse of the writing meant that I devoured this book in just under 24 hours, whilst taking in every detail described. I felt at home in this story, despite some of the unfamiliar territory it covered. I felt as though Adam’s friend Angela was my own friend, and honestly, I did see a lot of my own friendships in the close bond that Adam and Angela shared. The friendship between them is one of the big standouts of this novel for me, and I think that is what held this novel together so well in amongst all the chaos of the events themselves. I think it is fair to say that this is a coming of age story for people who have already taken their first steps in adulthood, and reading this book with that perspective only enriches the story that Ness gives us in Release.

This is a novel that I will be passing onto friends, and I highly encourage you to get out and get your hands on a copy of this moving and tender novel. You won’t regret it.

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Release by Patrick Ness (Walker Books, RRP $24.99) is now available in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of Release. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2017

A Journal of Small Pleasures | New/Old Music

 

There has been a surge of new music releases in the last few weeks. But none have captured me in the way that a small number of artists have.

***

2013 and 2014 were strange years for me, marking my final year of high school and my first year of university. It was a time of major transition, not only in terms of education, but also of changes in my personal relationships with people and how I viewed myself. I spent a lot of time travelling – long car trips with friends, bus rides to work, trains to and from university – and these vast spaces were filled with music. My tastes in music had changed and evolved over this time, and while a few old favourites stayed, a lot of new music poured into my life.

***

PARAMORE

Paramore was not new to me in 2013. I had always been surrounded by Paramore fans, but I had never found myself as hooked on their music as my friends.

But then the self-titled album came out. And Paramore became a staple for me. They featured on every mix CD I gave to my friends for long car rides. We all knew the words, and the right moments to clap in the middle of a song.

‘Still Into You’ made me envious of Hayley Williams and her crazy vocals. ‘Ain’t It Fun’ was the growing-up anthem I didn’t know I needed until I had it on loop. ‘Grow Up’ helped me get over bad friendships that were falling apart. To this day, that song always reminds me of the friends I had to leave behind in order to find myself.

Paramore’s self-titled album was the right album at the right time.

***

HAIM

I came across HAIM by accident. I had heard ‘The Wire’ on the radio more than once, and it often played at work, but I never knew who sang it. Spotify rectified that for me.

I soon played all of Days Are Gone on repeat for hours in my room and danced around to the stunning vocals and dramatic beats. I had never heard anything like these women. I wanted to be as effortlessly cool as they were. ‘If I Could Change Your Mind’ was the song I listened to whenever I was getting ready to go out, and I spent longer than I care to admit trying to learn the dance routine from the music video.

HAIM sang their way through my train journeys and there was a song for every moment, every feeling I had. And they were mine. None of my friends knew them, and I never shared them. HAIM was my little secret, and I wanted them to stay that way. Sometimes music feels like it should just be yours, if only for a short while, and I didn’t want to lose HAIM. They were too important.

***

BLEACHERS

Bleachers was a gift given to me by Lena Dunham’s Girls. After binge watching Girls I fell into a Google wormhole and came out the other side clutching Strange Desire.

I knew Jack Antonoff from his FUN days, but Bleachers was such a different sound. ‘Rollercoaster’ was instantly a summer song. It was bright and beautiful and fun. But it was probably ‘I Wanna Get Better’ that hooked me. I was going through a rough patch when I heard this song for the first time, and it got right at the heart of how I was feeling without making me feel like a cliched sad person.

Bleachers was unlike anything I had listened to before, and I was surprised to find myself listening to it as much as I did. I didn’t love the whole album equally, but I knew the songs I was going to keep with me in case of an emergency, and that was important in those days.

***

Recently, each of these groups have released new music for the first time since 2013/2014. Whilst I listened to their old music every now and then since, it was the recent release of new music from each of them that has pulled me in all over again.

It is strange hearing these voices for the first time again. They are new. But they are familiar as well. And somehow it makes it seem like 2013/2014 again.

I am in a new period of transition at the moment – finishing up my undergraduate course at university and working out what to do next. I have big plans, much in the same way I did back then. But the strange tug of the past has curled around my heart in these songs.

It is amazing how much emotional value music has for us. For me, music is always intertwined with memories – of specific events, of certain friends, of big moments in my life – and it was a weird coincidence that all three of these groups that had such an impact on an important moment of my life have released new music at the same time, a time that mirrors the changes of 2013 and 2014. All those memories of happy moments, moments where hard choices were made, and moments of in-between are flooding back with these voices, these songs.

I am a different person then I was, and these songs remind me of that. But some things haven’t changed at all, and it is the comfort of knowing that I will always be able to mark my memories with music, with this music, that brings a little more sun back.

It’s time for memories worth the soundtrack I have been given.

 

I have made a Spotify Playlist with some of my favourite songs from Paramore, HAIM and Bleachers, from their 2013/2014 albums and their latest releases. Check it out here.

 

© Hayley New 2017

 

 

A Bold Yet Bittersweet Verse: A Review of Crossan & Conaghan’s ‘We Come Apart’

 

When We Come Apart was released in March, there was a lot of buzz about it online. It was constantly coming up on my twitter feed and was dominating discussions of Young Adult fiction online. Needless to say I was curious.

So when I received a copy of the book in a surprise bundle of books from Bloomsbury Australia, I couldn’t resist reading it as soon as possible. And believe me when I say, I was not disappointed.

We Come Apart makes something new out of Young Adult fiction. Authors Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan made the bold move of writing the whole book in verse, a form usually reserved for poetry or plays. In choosing to write a book for teenagers and young adults in this form, Conaghan and Crossan have opened up an opportunity for these young audiences to read something in verse without being hindered by the presumption that it is going to be beyond their reach or even ‘boring’ as many young people view Shakespeare or most poetry to be. Instead, We Come Apart brings a relatable story for young people to new life, by challenging the ways we tell our stories.

The book itself is a relatively easy and fast read, not only because of the sparse and carefully chosen language, but also because of the story itself. Jess and Nicu are the kind of people we all know – the girl who pretends she doesn’t care to hide how much she does care, and the immigrant boy who wants more than what his old life could offer him. Personally, I found Nicu to be the most interesting character to read through. His chapters were often the ones with the most beautiful language choices, even hidden in the markings of his struggles with English as his second language. It is Nicu who gives us the book’s title, and the meaning behind it. It is Nicu who breaks our hearts. And it is Nicu who will probably stay with me long after Jess.

In saying that though, Jess’ storyline is not without incredible writing. There is a lot hidden in her narrative, and I wish I could know what she does after the last page. We leave her with a whole uncertain future ahead of her and when I finished the last page, I wanted to know what happens to her just as much as I wanted to know what happened to Nicu. For me, it reminded me a lot of the last pages of John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars – it conjured the same feeling of wanting to know, yet feeling like knowing what happens next would ruin what just happened on the page. I was incredibly emotionally invested in this story, and for me, that is the mark of a great book.

This is a book I would recommend to all teens, especially those who have previously struggled with poetry, plays or any other verse. We Come Apart is striking and beautifully composed, and I wish more authors were willing to be bold in their choices while writing YA Fiction. I applaud Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan for being bold and making something incredible out of it.

 

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We Come Apart (Bloomsbury, $17.99) is now available in all good book stores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from, and support their local independent book stores.

Thank you once again to Bloomsbury Australia for sending me a copy of Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan’s We Come Apart for review. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

© Hayley New 2017