Thirsty Romance Review: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

“The Hating Game. You versus me. It’s the only way this can possibly end.”

During my recent, habitual task of roaming my local library shelves, I landed eagle-eyed on The Hating Game, which I’ve heard nothing but praise for in the last year. It didn’t need any further coaxing to check it out. And damn, this is one hot summer book; I’m glad I read it at the high-end of the hot season dying down.

I know I’m low-key excited when I read the praise at the start of the book. Valerie Frankel’s “stole my life for two days” seemed promising, in particular.

NEMESIS (n)

1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome
2) A person’s undoing
3) Joshua Templeman

Lucy Hutton has always been certain that the nice girl can get the corner office. She prides herself on being loved by everyone at work – except for imposing, impeccably attired Joshua Templeman.

Trapped in a shared office, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive, never-ending game of one-upmanship. There’s the Staring Game, The Mirror Game, The HR Game. Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything – especially when a huge promotion is on offer.

If Lucy wins, she’ll be Joshua’s boss. If she loses, she’ll resign. So why is she questioning herself? Maybe she doesn’t hate him. And just maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game . . .

I sank into a more comfortable reading position as soon as this book got a good laugh out of me with the line:

“He doesn’t acknowledge me for a full minute. His keystrokes intensify. Beethoven on a piano has nothing on him right now.”

This seemed promising within a heartbeat at that.
Honestly, Lucy and Joshua’s whole office teasing/hating vibe had me in fits when I made the comparison in my head with Jim and Dwight from The Office.

The Hating Game could’ve used the office angst between Lucy & Joshua to pull together some grandiose pranks, and yet… we get some mentions of HR reported pranks, but zero details of what they contained. To be honest, I never quite determined who’s who: Our Dwight fluctuates between Joshua Templeman, Assistant (To The) co-CEO, and Lucy Hutton, Executive Assistant (To The) co-CEO.

They’re so aware of one another and I’m here wondering how can you hate someone you’re so obsessed with? They’ve memorized the other’s shirt colors, moods, patterns of behavior; They’re on each other’s case every single moment. Their world orbits around the other.

Case in point:

  • The main reason why they seem to hate each other’s guts comes across pretty clear upon the flashback to their first time meeting. Lucy feels like she has to hate him because the other option is too daunting, especially if she feels it’s unrequited. Neither of them would’ve remained neutral about the other.

“Please, I beg myself. Please hate Josh again. This is too hard.”

  • Again, if a book can get me laughing, I’m all in:
When I finally work out how to decode the pencil marks, I slap my forehead. I can’t believe I’ve been so slow.
“Thanks. I’ve been dying to do that all afternoon,” Joshua says without taking his eyes from his monitor.”
This is such a subtle but humorous moment.
  • If I thought the elevator scene was hot (which it surely was; Grey’s Anatomy is quaking), I had a big storm waiting with chapter sixteen; I’m still fanning myself. And to think they started, thanks to the enticing storytelling skills of her “esoteric” dream. I had to keep all windows wide open for that necessary breeze for the rollercoaster of a ride that is chapter sixteen.
  • Lucy investigating every nook and cranny (why does this sound like innuendo?) in Joshua’s apartment in the same chapter was oddly reminiscent of an episode in season three of The Office (“Cocktails”) where the characters attend a cocktail party at a glamorous house, and Dwight’s running around, similar to Lucy, to inspect everything:

This is literally Lucy with Joshua’s heavenly couch:

“Where’d you get this couch? I want to get the same one.”
“It’s the only one on earth.” His dry voice floats out from the kitchen.
“Can I buy it from you?”
“No.”
“What about this ribbon cushion?”
“One of a kind.”

  • Speaking of the show, I have to say that before starting this book I thought all the games mentioned on the back cover meant this would be like earlier into season three, where Jim Halpert fails miserably at playing Call of Duty with the Stamford branch. Like, what if Jim had fallen for Karen Filippelli while playing Call of Duty at work. But turns out that the Staring Game, the HR Game (which is the equivalent of Dwight yelling “MICHAEL”), or the Hating Game are just ways Lucy and Joshua interact.
  • I wasn’t really that invested in the characters outside of their relationship, though, meaning that I hadn’t bothered to think beyond their personal selves, which is why the few surprise curveballs thrown my way managed to shake me up. I just wish we wouldn’t dwell so much on family drama, especially something as big as attending a wedding half filled with Templemans, if we haven’t even interacted with the family members in question prior to it. Also: the trope of the girlfriend getting involved in family drama and solving it all in one scene is eye-roll worthy. If I pick up a romance book it’s pretty obvious I’m not here for all the family interactions.
  • With romances I either hate them or l feel neutral towards the story.  I tried my hand earlier this year with The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and found myself tired out by the sex scenes and just craved going back to that blissful state of drawn-out kisses with intimate yet deliberate hand touches.
  • So I was beyond loving this book for not granting the big s e x scene right away and make the two work for it. Like, as much as the characters were frustrated to part away, it was so worth it in the long run. I usually lose my momentum within the story once that first big scene ends because the thrill of the chase lost and everything turns quite repetitive. So it was beyond gratifying to see The Hating Game laser focus on its spellbinding, pages-long kisses, which were deliciously slow in their attentive nature to tiny details.
  • Kitchen scenes where Joshua’s preparing food and Lucy feels so at home with him that she just leans into him at every opportunity GOT TO ME.

“Don’t line my replacement up too quick. You’ll hurt my feelings.”
The reminder of the likely outcome of this entire scenario makes me decide to lean against him. The middle of his back is the most perfectly ergonomic place to hide my face.”

All bubbling and soft feelings evoked.

When you spent so much of your time pining after someone, knowingly or unknowingly, the high of getting together is intoxicating. The number of times Lucy goes to say she addicted to Joshua made my mind play Britney Spears’ Toxic in the background.

All in all: the hype for The Hating Game was worth it for the majority, even if family feuds came to intervene at the very end. Honestly, it was worth it all for chapter sixteen.

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Returning To the Starting Point: My (Book)Spoilery Review of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

“You’d rather make up a fantasy version of somebody in your head than be with a real person.”

Knowing this book would be waiting for me upon completing Always and Forever, Lara Jean made it a bittersweet reading experience, revisiting where it all started.

I took a bit of an odd journey with this series, what with watching the Netflix adaption first (having read the first two books back in 2015, I counted on my scarce memory to have my back when watching the film), then turning to reading P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han to refill on the charm that is John Ambrose McClaren, and having to top it off with Always and Forever, Lara Jean. Now, here we are at the end of the road with To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before where it all starts: Chris’s leather jacket. She must’ve been right about how bomb that jacket is because it’s pretty much what stirred all the following events to fall into domino-like place.

All this leads to me finally taking notice of the titles for the series, which all add up to read like a letter: Book 1 is the opening line: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. Book two is when you want to add something quickly, just before the end: P.S. I Still Love You. And book three is the big finale: Always and Forever, Lara Jean.

Let’s recount:

  • Coming into this from the last book, it’s interesting to see the many parallel lines drawn between Margot and Lara Jean’s coming-of-age, from leaving home for the first time to first loves and taking care of your family. Margot is one of the most fascinating characters to me in how she took on so much responsibility at such a young age, so my heart went out to her when she finally shared just how much she has to calculate her every move because there are two little sisters looking up to her:

“You know what Mommy would always say to me?” She lifts her chin higher. “ ‘Take care of your sisters.’ So that’s what I did. I’ve always tried to put you and Kitty first. Do you have any idea how hard it was being so far away from you guys? How lonely it was? All I wanted to do was come back home, but I couldn’t, because I have to be strong. I have to be”—she struggles for a breath—“the good example. I can’t be weak. I have to show you guys how to be brave. Because . . . because Mommy isn’t here to do it.”

She couldn’t even afford to be vulnerable about her aching for them because she needs to set an example. My heart sings when she’s with her little sisters. She somehow knows exactly what to say to get them moving in the right diction.

“When other adults find out that my dad is a single father of three girls, they shake their heads in admiration, like How does he do it? How does he ever manage that all by himself? The answer is Margot.”

  • Which brings me to my next point: LJ’s infatuation with Josh returning conveniently with Margot’s absence is more of a sign of her clinging onto someone that’s similar to her sister, rather than LJ’s radical love for him.
  • I appreciate how close the film for TATBILB stuck to the source material. I recalled zero-to-none events going into, so it caught me off-guard that the running track where Peter first tells Lara Jean about receiving the letter is present in both the book and movie.

The edit nails it, especially in this scene:

During chemistry, Peter writes me a note that says, Can I come over tonight to study for the test?
I write back, I don’t remember study sessions being in the contract. After he reads it, he turns around and gives me a wounded look. I mouth, I’m kidding!”

  • As soon as I started reading so many incidents from the book came rolling back into my mind, and it made me recall how utterly hilarious To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is. I read it right after completing the Harry Potter series with The Deathly Hallows, after which I felt… hallow… so having this book suck me right in, which I deemed an impossible task right then, had me beaming.

I remember, in particular, hysterically laughing at LJ’s incident with Margot’s doll (bonus points for naming her Rochelle) and the toothpaste. It had me in fits of laughter for days, so much so that I took a screenshot to keepsake on my phone for those much-needed pick-me-up moments. For old times’ sake, I have to share it here:

“Rochelle was Margot’s only doll. She adored her. I remember begging Margot to let me hold her, just for a second, but Margot always said no. There was this one time, I had a cold, and I stayed home from school. I crept into Margot’s room and I took Rochelle, I played with her all afternoon, I pretended Rochelle and I were best friends. I got it into my head that Rochelle’s face was actually kind of plain; she would look better with lipstick on. It would be a favor to Margot if I made Rochelle more beautiful. I got one of Mommy’s lipsticks out of her bathroom drawer and I put some on her lips. Right away I knew it was a mistake. I’d drawn it on outside of her lip lines, she looked clownish, not sophisticated. So then I tried to clean off the lipstick with toothpaste, but it only made her look like she had a mouth disease. I hid under my blankets until Margot came home. When she found the state Rochelle was in, I heard Margot’s scream.”

That scream in my head is so dramatic.

Funnily enough, revisiting those scenes that were so big in my head, now reduced themselves on the page. Same with the epic Halloween scene that I had a weakness for, where I recalled Peter and Kitty bonding, but in my mind, it was with words and not through their (epic) dance-off. In reality, I only laughed at the memory of laughing while rereading.

But still, we have to share them moves:

“Our big finish is splits, with our arms crossed for emphasis.
Peter’s bowled over, laughing his head off. He claps and claps and stomps his feet.
When it’s over, I try to catch my breath and manage to say, “Okay, you’re up, Kavinsky.”
“I can’t,” Peter gasps. “How do I follow a performance like that? Kitty, will you teach me that pop-and-lock move?”
Kitty gets shy all of a sudden. She sits on her hands and looks at him through her lashes and shakes her head.
“Please, please?” he asks.
Kitty finally caves in—I think she just wanted to make him work for it. I watch them dance all afternoon, my little sister the ninja and my pretend boyfriend Spider-Man. First I laugh, but then a worrying thought comes out of nowhere—I can’t let Kitty get too attached to Peter. This is temporary. The way Kitty looks at him, so adoringly, like he’s her hero. . . .”

Honestly so, so mad the movie missed this epic opportunity to show them off like this…

  • I have to circle back on Lara Jean and Peter way back to her first letter because I didn’t remember a thing she wrote, so I have to say I was beyond impressed with thirteen-year-old LJ:

“And now that the year is almost over, I know for sure that I am also over you. I’m immune to you now, Peter. I’m really proud to say that I’m the only girl in this school who has been immunized to the charms of Peter Kavinsky. All because I had a really bad dose of you in seventh grade and most of eighth. Now I never ever have to worry about catching you again. What a relief! I bet if I did ever kiss you again, I would definitely catch something, and it wouldn’t be love. It would be an STD!”

Savagery.

I low-key piqued at future Lara Jean in Always and Forever, Lara Jean because she had the perfect opportunity to revisit this letter she wrote to her seemingly dream-boy to catch her reaction now, and it was totally brushed aside. The timing was perfect, as well, given her confused state on how things will move forward, she could’ve gone back to how it all started.

  • Since this book chronicles the start of Lara Jean’s thing with Peter, it now makes sense as to why in the following books LJ is constantly on his case, bickering and teasing, given that is how they started out. They’re pretty much hate-to-love, at this point.

“I think throwing Peter off guard could be a fun hobby for me.”

Since Peter K.’s confidence depends upon the approval of others, they start hitting it off when Lara Jean gets along well with Peter’s lacrosse team buddies. Also, of course, his mother’s approval.

Personally, I really came to appreciate the tiny gestures and acts of kindness Peter extended towards Lara Jean, even something as simple as holding her backpack for her. Or that incomparable scene of him coming over to Lara Jean’s to invite her to a game, which leads to him helping out with the cupcakes for Kitty’s PTA bake sale, featuring that one moment that makes everyone stop for a beat:

“Well, if it’s for Kitty, then Kitty should be helping.” Peter hops off the stool and comes up to me and slides his hands around my waist and tries to untie my apron strings. “Where is the kid?”
I stare at him. “What . . . are you doing?”
Peter looks at me like I’m a dummy. “I need an apron too if I’m going to help. I’m not trying to get my clothes all messed up.”

Kitchen scenes with getting all up in each other’s personal space GET TO ME. I can’t help but think of this moment with Noora and William from Skam when he’s preparing her cocoa drink and subtly leans over:

When Peter ends up helping Kitty out with her experiment, while waiting for Lara Jean to get ready, it was the cherry on top of one of the best scenes in the book for me.

“I run to Margot’s room for her big grandpa cardigan, and I pass Kitty’s open door, where I see Peter and Kitty lying on the floor, working with her lab set.”

While I’m at it, talking lazy circles around each other in the library is something I’m always here for:

“What do you and Chris even talk about?” he asks. “You have nothing in common.”
“What do we talk about?” I counter.
Peter laughs. “Point taken.” He pushes away from the wall and puts his head in my lap, and I go completely still.
I try to make my voice sound normal as I say, “You’re in a really strange mood today.”
He raises an eyebrow at me. “What kind of mood am I in?” Peter sure loves to hear about himself. Normally, I don’t mind, but today I’m not in the mood to oblige him. He already has too many people in his life telling him how great he is.
“The obnoxious kind,” I say, and he laughs.
“I’m sleepy.” He closes his eyes and snuggles against me. “Tell me a bedtime story, Covey.”

Also, the quick road trip to an estate sale, bothering to bring each other food (donuts and a sandwich) and getting to know each other by asking random questions, like specifying your absolute favorite food, or racing The Epsteins, was a nice bonding moment. Though his constant lateness is starting to trip me up…

He’s very loyal to his people, but I feel like the main conflict for him is that he doesn’t quite know where his loyalties lie within this book: Genevieve or Lara Jean. Which makes for some hair-pulling annoying scenes.

  • I got weirdly emotional with Chris in this book, what with returning to her younger days and her angst after seeing her in Always and Forever, Lara Jean. My heart squeezes at the memory of them. She’ll grow so much.
  • My only hindrance is that I chose to read this on Yom Kippur, knowing this was the only light-hearted book that would keep me intact, but I didn’t account for the fact that Lara Jean’s whole life circles baked goods and at a certain point it got to be too much for me. There are SO MANY MEALS discussed here, including the intricate details of making them, and I was bursting to shout “Some of us are hungry, Lara Jean…”
  • I was a tiny bit worried that I’d get stuck on the fact this is the Hebrew translated version since I’m always wondering how it was worded in the original when reading translated fiction. But I was pleasantly surprised to find said feeling diminished while reading TATBILB (could be because I originally read it in English, but still). Interestingly enough, Gen and (Lara) Jean are written the same way in Hebrew: ג׳ין, which made me ponder.

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55It’s been so long since I devoted myself so fully to marathon a series of books. The last was with Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle, and not to sound like Granny Lara Jean, as Chris (and Peter) so lovingly calls her, but it was the best of times. If you have a good book waiting for you at home, practically nothing can touch you.

If you’re interested in buying To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, just click on the image below to go through my Amazon Affiliate. I’ll make a small commission!

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The Big Finale: My Long-Winded and (Book)Spoilery Review of Always and Forever, Lara Jean

“There’s something romantic about waiting for a letter in the mail, waiting for your destiny.”

I wanted to devour this book whole, so chores and life getting in the way was beyond distracting, as Cath said expertly in FangirlReal life was something happening in her peripheral vision. So I’m thankful for days like Shabbat, giving me the opportunity to have a day to read through a book and discuss it with my family.

The vibe between Lara Jean and Peter in Always and Forever, Lara Jean is miles away from the hostile and petty ways in the previous book. It’s rather similar to their easy-going nature in the Netflix adaption of TATBILB, which was basically all that I wanted with rereading this series. It makes sense, too, given that this was the most recent to come out before the film.

Having read through all three books in this series, I can see now how the Netflix film adaption features different scenes and takes from each book. Like Peter and Lara Jean’s list of their favorite movies to watch together, or Peter’s comical line of comparing himself to the handsome hero in a film to fish out a compliment from the Song girls. Plus, LJ and Peter talking openly about their families, including his dad’s absence, which is a first for them.

As I wrote in my review for P.S. I Still Love You, it’s the careful, everyday observations that make my heart sing, and this concluding book was full of them, thankfully.

  • Peter K. becoming the next Chris Pratt with mastering braids, courtesy of Kitty so he can take care of Lara Jean when they head off to college:

“Who will braid my hair when I’m at college?” I muse.
“I will,” Peter says, all confidence.
“You don’t know how,” I scoff.
“The kid will teach me. Won’t you, kid?”
“For a price,” Kitty says.
They negotiate back and forth before finally settling on Peter taking Kitty and her friends to the movies one Saturday afternoon.”

It was sweet to see him practice throughout the book, not just mentioned once for entertainment.

  • I was so glad to see so many heart-warming moments that make me want to break out into giddy laughter with the main couple.

“I throw my arms around him and lift my chin expectantly, waiting for my good-night kiss. He nuzzles his face against mine, and I feel gladness for the fact that he has smooth cheeks and barely even needs to shave. I close my eyes, breathe him in, wait for my kiss. And he plants a chaste peck on my forehead. “Good night, Covey.”
My eyes fly open. “That’s all I get?”
Smugly he says, “You said earlier that I’m not that good at kissing, remember?”
“I was kidding!”
He winks at me as he hops in his car. I watch him drive away. Even after a whole year of being together, it can still feel so new. To love a boy, to have him love you back. It feels miraculous.
I don’t go inside right away. Just in case he comes back. Hands on my hips, I wait a full twenty seconds before I turn toward the front steps, which is when his car comes peeling back down our street and stops right in front of our house. Peter sticks his head out the window. “All right then,” he calls out. “Let’s practice.”

Peter turning back was C U T E.

Plus, Lara Jean does not disappoint in her follow-up response:

“I run back to his car, I pull him toward me by his shirt, and angle my face against his—and then I push him away and run backward, laughing, my hair whipping around my face.
“Covey!” he yells.
“That’s what you get!” I call back gleefully. “See you on the bus tomorrow!”

Ahhh! This scene is the peak of young and in love.

If there was ever a more fitting gif reaction…

I can tell now why Lara Jean ended up with Peter, instead of John Ambrose in P.S. I Still Love You: Peter lights up her life and the reading content to a more upbeat note, to paraphrase “her world is so much more with him in it.” So had she ended up with John, all we would’ve gotten from the book are scenes of the Belleview nursing home, reading, baking, and decorating Easter eggs, rinse and repeat (there’s only so many times this can remain steadfast interesting)… Honestly, 18-year-old Lara Jean leads such a Grandma-esque lifestyle (Chris can back me up; she even stole my line “Grandma Lara Jean”!) that those scenes of her timid nature are a snooze, until characters with a more lively personality, like Peter or Kitty or Chris, grace us with their presence.

  • I had an issue with Ms. Rothschild character, which I stay cleared off mentioning in previous posts because she wasn’t integrated into this family fully, but now that she is, I feel safe saying this just once: Why is it not mentioned that she’s Jewish? Rothschild is a well-known Jewish last name, so it’s odd that it’s not even mentioned or hinted at once in this series. The bare-minimum could’ve been provided in book two where, instead of mentioning the Christmas tree in her window, it could’ve gone to include the Menorah. All that echoed in my mind was this on-point line from Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon:

“…you haven’t lit a menorah since the nineties, but hello Facebook photos of you in a Santy Claus hat ho-ho-hoing it up next to the Christmas tree you put up in your apartment, and it was kind of obvious that, for whatever reason, you actually liked wearing that cheap fake crushed red velvet hat with the shitty white pom pom on the end, or maybe it wasn’t the hat, maybe it was just getting to stand under the mistletoe and smooch paper-cut-lips Melody, amazing, dynamic, smart-as-shit Melody, the icon of your ideal woman,…”

  • This leads to another point on why I see Peter and Lara Jean not lasting past the first year at Uni. Beyond what she promised herself not to do for two books (go to college with a boyfriend), Margot’s mentioning the Asian association and  “going to college and finding your racial identity” stirred within me the memory that Lara Jean’s deepest desire is to feel close to her late mother’s memory and the Korean side of her family, so it seems natural that she’ll want someone that can grant her something Peter Kavinsky can’t. (Also, the surprise gift her dad granted her to spend a month in Korea with her sisters and Grandma for the summer only solidified this train of thought, in my eyes.) It’s also something Levi in Fangirl mentioned about outgrowing high school relationships: “We came here. We realized that we weren’t the only two datable people on the planet.”

And I think Jenny Han confirmed my theory when Lara Jean ponders the same for a moment:

“…and who knows what will happen between now and then? By then we’ll be such different people. Thinking of Peter in his twenties, I feel a sense of yearning for the man I may never get to meet. Right now, today, he’s still a boy, and I know him better than anybody, but what if it isn’t always this way? Already our paths are diverging, a little more every day, the closer we get to August.”

  • Also, thank you clearheaded Margot for putting Lara Jean in the right headspace when it comes to her whimsical fantasies. Margot tells her sister exactly what I’d been screaming at LJ for too long, and it was beyond satisfying to read line by line my head-dialogue on the page. I felt heard.

“I just don’t want you to live a half life at William and Mary because the whole time you’re wishing you were with Peter at UVA.”

It’s in those moments of looking into colleges that I dislike her clinging on so desperately to this anchor in her life. And Peter doing the same. If it’s for her family I wouldn’t have questioned or doubted it once, but for Peter…

“There’s so much to be excited about, if you let yourself be.”

  • Speaking of, this boyfriend of hers still falls prey to being a typical high school boy with his antics (I’m begging him to, please, stop falling prey to the miscommunication trope), which was my main hindrance with his character in P.S. I Still Love You. But he surprised me for the better with his considerate promposal, going all out to grant Lara Jean her little recreation straight from her favorite movie, Sleepless in Seattle (and it doesn’t end here with the recreations of her favorite rom-coms: Sixteen Candles is next).

“I squeeze the bear, and again he says, “Will you go to prom with me, Lara Jean?” “Yes, I will, Howard.” Howard is, of course, the name of the bear from Sleepless in Seattle.
“Why are you saying yes to him and not to me?” Peter demands.
“Because he asked.” I raise my eyebrows at him and wait.
Rolling his eyes, Peter mumbles, “Lara Jean, will you go to prom with me? God, you really do ask for a lot.”
I hold the bear out to him. “I will, but first kiss Howard.”
“Covey. No. Hell, no.”
“Please!” I give him a pleading look. “It’s in the movie, Peter.”
And grumbling, he does it, in front of everybody, which is how I know he is utterly and completely mine.”

It’s sweet to see his pure innocence in willing to do anything to see her smile. “Is there anything more intoxicating than making a boy bend to your will?”

It’s the tiny nuances of their relationship that stuck with me. From revealing their college acceptance letters to late night drive troughs. Though, I do feel like their interactions were quite timid in this book with essentially no one-on-one scenes the more we dived into the storyline. He gets a bit lost behind in all the shenanigans set up in Always and Forever, Lara Jean.

I realized after reading for hours on end deep into the night, how deeply I missed the feeling of immersing myself fully into a book. There’s nothing quite as comforting and quintessential as reading a good book with no real life worries ahead to diverge your attention.

If anything, I’m glad this book doesn’t settle down for simply exploring everyday interactions, instead, we have something to propel the plot forward with exciting new components: Margot’s visit home (she keeps this family in-check) and getting the chance to look over her new boyfriend with the scanner of approval. John Ambrose’s surprise cameo, though, it’s odd we had to get rid of a certain bigger-than-life character to set this encounter up. Everything leading up to our small, local wedding. Lara Jean’s coping mechanisms with stress, including baking the perfect cookie (petition for LJ to start her own food blog!) and planning through every detail of the big day. Spur-of-the-moment road trips with Chris, who brings out the carefree, wild side in Lara Jean. The last day of high school and what that entails. But before all that, it all begins with college acceptance letters. The countdown is really on.

  • Speaking of… Lara Jean’s first worry upon not getting accepted into her dream school was her family, and I nearly shed a tear at that. LJ voices so many of the worries I have as a big sister, when she entertains the thought of studying far from home and what that entails in terms of leaving Kitty behind – from not being there to deliver the first period talk to missing birthdays, I was nearly crying by the end and yelling inside “THEN DON’T GO TO COLLEGE, LARA JEAN.”

“For the first time ever, all of the Song girls will be living truly apart. We three probably won’t ever live in the same house together again. ”

S T O P. This hurts.

And she nails it down with: “The thing is, you get used to it. Before you even realize it’s happening, you get used to things being different, and it will be that way for Kitty too.”

This is what scares me most: I don’t want either of us to get used to that reality. I want my sister to always have me available at a moment’s notice. This whole scene hit me too hard.

“At breakfast I keep stealing glances at her, memorizing every little thing. Her gangly legs, her knobby knees, the way she watches TV with a half smile on her face. She’ll only be as young as this for a little while longer. ”

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It’s interesting then to notice the clear parallel, in rereading To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, between Lara Jean’s worrying over the dynamic change once Margot leaves for college, and her own journey of leaving home for the first time in Always and Forever, Lara Jean.

“Margot, when you first went to college, what did you miss most about home?”
“Well, you guys, obviously.”
“But what else? Like, what were the unexpected things you missed?”
“I missed giving Kitty a kiss good night after she’d had a bath and her hair was clean.”
I make a snorty sound. “A rare occasion!”

I’m so thankful for this moment of bonding. It’s always the tiniest of observations that creep up on you.

I’m glad I went into this fresh after having revisited P.S. I Still Love You because when I tried reading this finale on its own, back when it came out, everything here just read as fan wish-fulfillment because I’d completely forgotten all specific characteristics and events from the series. Time and distance makes the heart grow fonder, and I’m glad to have completed this last book after being immersed in their world through the movie and my reread of the previous books (though I must say how taken aback I was that it’s been over a year since Always and Forever, Lara Jean came out). There’s something so wistful about coming-of-age stories that won’t seem to grow old on me.

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In-depth (Book)Spoilery Review: P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

This practically begged to be reread after watching the end credit scene of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (all my rambling thoughts and ravings for Noah and Lana the film are here). And after too many interviews featuring Noah Centineo with puppies, I had to succumb to rereading this follow-up book.

Back in 2015 when I had first gotten into reading extensively, this was the first sequel I remember desperately craving to have in my hands. This contemporary series arrived at the perfect time, as well, having just completed the Harry Potter series for the first time (!!), it was the perfect light-hearted read to mend my book hangover.

However, given that it’s been three years since I first read the book, my recollection was hazy on the particular events and happenings circling Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky. So it was fun to rediscover that the particular plot points at the end of TATBILB film are what propels this book forward: the hot tub Instagram baddie scene, and the infamous Peter K. line:

Peter laughs easily; he cups my cheek in his hand. “Are you planning on breaking my heart, Covey?”

I do have to say, though, it is was nearly impossible not to compare and contrast movie Peter to book Peter, and having the latter come up short nearly every time. I perpetually felt like book Peter came across quite juvenile and unsure of himself, yet likes to project the vibe to everyone that he’s Cool, like a typical high school boy… I vividly remember the scene of their first date in the book where he accidentally hits LJ’s right boob and his response, “Whoops. Sorry. Are you okay?” felt like worlds away from his adapted movie persona. Movie Peter had this confident, reassuring, yet vulnerable side to him that makes it hard not to root for him. The foundation lies in scenes like this:

But Peter doesn’t kiss me, not the way I expect. He kisses me on my left cheek, and then my right; his breath is warm. And then nothing. My eyes fly open. Is this a literal kiss-off? Why isn’t he kissing me properly? “What are you doing?” I whisper.
“Building the anticipation.”

It also feels like Lara Jean is simply way in over her head with this new Peter situation (it’s not fake-dating, but it’s not real dating, and it’s casual but it’s not…). There are so many questions circling her head since this is her first real-deal relationship, but Peter seems lightyears away from noticing. In the book Fangirl, Levi, upon sensing Cath’s hesitations and slight panic about what “going up to his room” entails, makes sure she knows she’s in control for what’s on the table and what’s off it.

“There was never a threat of things going too far when we were fake. But I see now how fast things can change without you even realizing it. It can go from a kiss to hands under my shirt in two seconds, and it’s so feverish, so frenzied. It’s like we’re on a high-speed train that’s going somewhere fast, and I like it, I do, but I also like a slow train where I can look out the window and appreciate the countryside, the buildings, the mountains. It’s like I don’t want to miss the little steps; I want it to last. And then the next second I want to grow up faster, more, now. To be as ready as everyone else is. How is everyone else so ready?
I still find it very surprising, having a boy in my personal space.”

Flashes back at “my personal space” to Noora and William in Skam

Thankfully, the new contract between LJ and Peter was established soon enough, covering things that will make them settle in more comfortably with this new level-up. Yet it was disheartening to see that Lara Jean still felt like she couldn’t broach the topic of Gen and Peter. It’s difficult to build a relationship without fundamental trust in the other person, especially with their initial foundation of lies and fiction. Like, every good thing that happens is soured by the news or idea of Genevieve in LJ’s head: the first date goes great until Gen is in the same movie theatre, or their meal after that same date is easy breezy until Lara Jean doubts whether or not he’s texting his ex when she goes to the bathroom, and those same old thoughts creep in when they’re spooning for the first time. These things can be cleared up by voicing your doubts, seeing their reaction, and having a healthy and lengthy discussion. Again, the Genevieve situation illustrates the point well of showcasing the less mature side of Peter. Talk it out with your current girlfriend, explain what ground you stand on together.

My one gripe with this series is that building a relationship on the doom of the last one doesn’t seem wise karma-wise, which is why Peter K. thrived in book one when it’s only fake-dating, but this sequel seemed to dive into his less admirable moments (he’s practically the antagonist towards the end). So I jumped readily onto no-baggage John Ambrose in P.S. I Still Love You.

But I do have to say, putting all the above aside, that Lara Jean’s heart eyes for Peter at the very start was definitely infectious and made me reminisce on all the good memories that come along with having a crush (like the thrill of seeing them unexpectedly just when you’re thinking of them), instead of all the bad parts my brain expertly suppresses.

“Sometimes I like you so much I can’t stand it. It fills up inside me, all the way to the brim, and I feel like I could overflow. I like you so much I don’t know what to do with it. My heart beats so fast when I know I’m going to see you again. And then, when you look at me the way you do, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.”

Now with that little rant aside, here are some of my must-talk-about-right-now points in P.S. I Still Love You, in case the sequel film is confirmed and I can come back to this extensive review:

  • First and foremost, I have to give it all to the Song girls. They make this book shine for me, especially with Margot at the head. She keeps this family glued together, which is why I’m perpetually flabbergasted at her University choice all the way in Scotland, having to subsequently leave LJ in the heat of things. She’s such a good sister, and I don’t know how she can bear to be so far away from her family. On a lighter note: Book Kitty is SO MUCH FUNNIER than Movie Kitty. Sister swear.

“Margot’s peering at it, head tilted. “No, it really doesn’t. It just looks like . . .”
“Like a hot makeout,” Chris supplies.
“Right,” Margot agrees. “Just a hot makeout.”
“You guys swear?”
In unison they say, “We swear.”
“Kitty?” I ask.
She bites her lip. “It looks like sex to me, but I’m the only one here besides you who’s never had sex, so what do I know?” Margot lets out a gasp. “Sorry, I read your diary.” Margot swats at her, and Kitty crawls away fast like a crab.”

Kitty’s “Sorry, I read your diary” made me laugh out loud. Also: her dedication to her shows and watching them uninterrupted is something else entirely. Having those scenes where Lara Jean’s sisters have her back – no questions asked – got me so good.

Kitty celebrating ten years made me quite wistful, as well.

“Kitty’s cares are still manageable; they can fit in the palm of my hand. I like that she still depends on me for things. Her cares and her needs make me forget my own. I like that I am needed, that I am beholden to somebody. This breakup with Peter, it’s not as big as Katherine Song Covey turning ten. She has sprung up like a weed, without a mother, just two sisters and a dad. That is no small feat. That’s something extraordinary.
But ten, wow. Ten isn’t a little girl anymore. It’s right in between. The thought of her getting older, outgrowing her toys, her art set . . . it makes me feel a bit melancholy. Growing up really is bittersweet.”

I feel this deeply.

  • There’s a new level of shared intimacy Lara Jean and Peter dive into, and they’re pretty cute at the start:

“Peter! You can’t be here!” I am equal parts panicky and excited. I don’t know if a boy has ever been in my room before, not since Josh, and that was ages ago.
He’s already taking off his shoes. “Just let me stay for a few minutes.”
I cross my arms because I’m not wearing a bra and say, “If it’s only a few minutes, why are you taking off your shoes?”
He dodges this question. Plopping down on my bed, he says, “Hey, why aren’t you wearing your Amish bikini? It’s so hot.” I move to slap him upside the head, and he grabs my waist and hugs me to him. He buries his head in my stomach like a little boy. His voice muffled, he says, “I’m sorry all this is happening because of me.”

It’s moments like this that make me question why his character went so downhill in this sequel.

  • Full disclosure, when I first read P.S. I Still Love You, I was team John all the way. It’s his letters that finally released the giggles out of me within reading this book. He’s such a sweet, kind boy.

P.S. I Still Love You- bookspoils

UNPARALLELED.

Also, the peak of romance hits for me is in this moment:

“There was this one time I looked out the window and saw that John McClaren was up in the tree house alone. He was just sitting by himself, reading. So I went out there with a couple of Cokes and a book and we read up there all afternoon. Later in the day Peter and Trevor Pike showed up, and we put the books away and played cards. At the time I was deep in the throes of liking Peter, so it wasn’t romantic in the slightest, of that I’m sure. But I do remember feeling that our quiet afternoon had been disrupted, that I’d rather have just kept reading in companionable silence.”

John Ambrose sounds exactly like what Lara Jeans needs. They’re the epitome of missed opportunity.

I also just love typing out their names because of this scene:

“Instead he asks a question. “Why do you always call me by my full name?”
“I don’t know. I guess that’s how I think of you in my head.”
“Oh, so you’re saying you think about me a lot?”
I laugh. “No, I’m saying that when I think about you, which isn’t very often, that’s how I think of you. On the first day of school, I always have to explain to teachers that Lara Jean is my first name and not just Lara. And then, do you remember how Mr. Chudney started calling you John Ambrose because of that? ‘Mr. John Ambrose.”

  • There are so many scenes in here that have remained so vivid and big in my head, like, LJ and John Ambrose running to escape the rain that I recall like it’s my own. Books are a part of me like my own memories. Upon revisiting those scenes now, however, I wasn’t as emotionally engaged as the first time. All that has stuck with me through the years from P.S. I Still Love You, read quite anticlimactically this time around, even that epic dance scene at Belleview (for a second there, I fooled myself to think there’s another dance scene after because of how disengaged I was in the moment), or them throwing snowballs at each other in the middle of the night.

“When he sees me, he holds his arms out and sings, “Do you want to build a snowman?” and I burst out laughing so hard John says, “Shh, you’re going to wake up the residents!” which only makes me laugh harder. “It’s only ten thirty!”

This Frozen reference definitely made me laugh in 2015, aka the peak of this song.

  • I think it all comes down to the fact that so much in this book, so many of the big events, were just handed to us. There’s no “building up the anticipation” for the reader. John Ambrose and Lara Jean just suddenly meet in real life like it’s nothing. The old crew from the treehouse are all suddenly in the same scene even though they’ve never interacted prior to this (like Trevor who are you??). Everything was just so quick and rushed to get to the finale.
  • I do have to say that I looooove the game of tag they initiated (like I mentioned in my review for Morgan Matson’s latest, Save the Date), where the winner receives a wish of their heart’s choice (John Ambrose’s wish made my heart melt). It was a hell of a road seeing everyone think up schemes to tag their person out:

“Genevieve looks very pleased with herself. “One wish, and you have to grant it.” She looks like an evil queen.
Chris’s eyes gleam as she says, “Anything?”
“Within reason,” I quickly say. This isn’t at all what I had in mind, but at least people are willing to play.
“Reason is subjective,” John points out.
“Basically, Gen can’t force Peter to have sex with her one last time,” Chris says. “That’s what everyone’s thinking, right?”
I stiffen. That wasn’t what I was thinking, like at all. But now I am.
Trevor busts up laughing and Peter shoves him. Genevieve shakes her head. “You’re disgusting, Chrissy.”
“I only said what everyone was thinking!”

I love Chris for being there to always supply out loud what’s going through our own head.

  • Circling back, I just have to say it: I feel so sorry for my Johnny boy because he got played hard. He exists in this novel pretty much just for Lara Jean’s sake and to make Peter jealous, and it’s so PETTY. I pretty much lost all respect for the relationship between LJ and Peter with this simple exchange:

“After class is over, Peter lingers at his desk, and then he turns around and says, “Hey.”
My heart leaps. “Hey.” I have this sudden, wild thought that if he wants me back, I’ll say yes. Forget my pride, forget Genevieve, forget it all.
“So I want my necklace back,” he says. “Obviously.”
My fingers fly to the heart locket hanging from around my neck. I wanted to take it off this morning, but I couldn’t bear to.”

His “obviously” was the last nail in the coffin. He’s asking back for the necklace he gifted her like it’s a given fact… five-year-old me has personal beef with people like that, so I couldn’t stand him in the moment. Not to mention his plagiarising a poem by Edgar Allan Poe… Come on, Peter. I get that he was trying to impress Lara Jean, but it’s stunts like these that remind me of how juvenile he is.

On a similar note, I disliked the author’s part in manipulating us to feel a certain way toward Peter or John Ambrose, when the plot turns so that everyone is suddenly jumping at Lara Jean to get with John, and it’s beyond jarring.

At a certain point, Peter gets painted as this evil antagonist (like, even Kitty sided against him), whereas everything John portrays is a moral act. I mean, we’re capable to realize on our own without the boldly drawn line of good and evil. This is acutely shown in the Belleview scene where Peter shows up with Gen:

“What are you doing here?” he asks me. “And what’s with all the makeup?” He gestures at my eyes, my lips.
My cheeks burn. I ignore the comment about my makeup and just say, “I work here, remember? I know why you’re here, Genevieve. Peter, thanks a lot for helping her take me out. You’re a real stand-up guy.”
“Covey, I didn’t come here to help her tag you out. I didn’t even know you’d be here. I told you, I don’t give a shit about this game!” He turns to Genevieve. Accusingly he says, “You said you needed to pick something up from your grandma’s friend.”

UGH. So frustrating.

“Blithely John says, “My great-grandmother lives here. Stormy. You may have heard of her. She’s a friend of Lara Jean’s.”
I’m sure he wouldn’t remember,” I say.
Peter frowns at me, and I know he doesn’t. It’s just like him not to. “What’s with the outfits?” he says, his voice gruff.
“USO party,” John says. “Very exclusive. VIPs only—sorry, guys.” Then he tips his hat at him, which I can tell makes Peter mad, which in turn makes me glad.
“What the hell is a USO party?” Peter asks me.”

All this to say that maybe Peter K. brought her out of her comfort zone, but he still doesn’t completely understand Lara Jean the way John does.

And if all this wasn’t confusing enough, everything gets turned on its head when Peter explains his side of the story, which I’m not convinced by one bit. It’s not OK to lie and hide things and then excuse it by saying “Gen needed a friend.” Genevieve needs counseling, not Peter K. to hug her firmly. It’s not even about him being there for his ex-girlfriend, it’s the fact that he misled Lara Jean to believe one thing when he’s doing another; be transparent, Peter. She deserves someone to treat her right.

“I know she can be manipulative—I’ve always known that. In some ways it was easier for me to default back to what I knew. I think maybe I was scared.”

But when it comes to last lines, this book makes it work fantastically, especially the quote at the end after the reveal that Lara Jean and Peter K. decide to dive all in with no preset rules:

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
—Margery Williams”

I am also confusion as to why book three is going against what she’s told herself two books not to do: “Exactly. I don’t want to be the girl crying in her dorm room over a boy.” I stop suddenly. “That’s something Mommy said to Margot. She said don’t be the girl who goes to college with a boyfriend and then misses out on everything.”

All in all: Though I found some hindrances in my reading of P.S. I Still Love You, it’s still so fun to tear through a book in one sitting and not have to mull over it too much.

If you’re interested in buying P.S. I Still Love You, just click on the image below to go through my Amazon Affiliate. I’ll make a small commission!

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Intimate Truths and Their Quiet Impact in The Storyteller by Eshkol Nevo

In preparation (and excitement) for this newest Nevo release to land in my hands, I reread my favorite story in Three Floors Up that entails the peak of his writing, for me: capturing snapshots of day-to-day life, like, Hani and Eviatar’s domestic tasks and the small moments that speak volumes in your family life. I still get goosebumps when I reread this:

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The set-up of this book introduces basic questions you can find in any interview, but the main character takes this opportunity to plunge headfirst into the truth, which is what I like so dearly about the writing style. This Q&A concept allowed for a lot of freedom, similar to a book of essays or short stories, where if you don’t vibe with a particular question you can move on to the next one. I’d doze off when politics were discussed (like the campaign run), but when the writing would zoom back in to focus on the relationships with his wife and the complicity of raising children, I was all ears.

In particular, I wanted so badly to hear more about Shira and her kind curly-haired nature boy, Nadav. Shira also had such a dynamic history with her father that came crashing down on such a high note of mistrust, and I wanted to live through the resolution, not have it given to me in one line. Same goes for the wife’s final decision regarding their marriage after the event of Noam’s Bat mitzvah that was entirely glossed over, even though all were discussed and build-up throughout the book.

Plus, the story of Iris and her youngest son Nimrod that was my absolute favorite scene in the book. Like. an actual thrill shot through my heart when I read it. Full of memories and nostalgia you’d share around the table with your family, this is what this book felt like. We feel included in any conversation and the inside jokes shared, which is best felt by the interactions between the best friends in the group.

This book was so honest on every part of the character’s life, especially within his marriage, that I low-key had to check if the author was going through a divorce… I kept thinking about his answer at the start of the book about the blurred lines between truth and fiction: if a lie in a book becomes true over time in real life, what happens then?

There’s so much covered over the span of The Storyteller, and I like how I can catch myself thinking about something different each time I think back on it.

More Shira and Nadav!

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My Appreciation For the Name Noah in Old Men at Midnight by Chaim Potok

“If he tells you stories, will you tell them to me?”

Full disclosure: I love the name Noah.

I like saying it, I like hearing it, and I like seeing it written on the page. The first story in Old Men at Midnight was like a love letter for the name Noah for the amount it was featured from page to page. I picked this book up at the library, upon turning around to face the library shelf it was on and randomly reaching out because I was familiar with the author’s name and wanted to read his words for the longest time, only to flip to the first page and have the very first word jump out at me: Noah.

All following details were a bonus, like the fact that he’s a sixteen-year-old survivor all on his own, living with his aunt and uncle in Brooklyn, under the tutelage of eighteen-year-old, Davita.

Old Men at Midnight is a trilogy of related novellas about a woman whose life touches three very different men—stories that encompass some of the profoundest themes of the twentieth century.

Ilana Davita Dinn is the listener to whom three men relate their lives.

Old Men at Midnight varies stylistically from what I usually reach for in my books, featuring writing style with minimal dialogue. But I was willing to take the plunge for Noah Stremin.

“Noah is the only one who survived.”
“The only one in his family? I am sorry.”
“ The only Jew in the town.”
I felt cold to the bone.
“Four thousand Jews, and he is the only survivor. My husband and I, we say to ourselves God saved him for a reason.”

I felt instant compassion and connection to Noah. His story captures so much of the loss survivors never regain. “You have pictures. I have nothing.”

I realized about halfway through the story that though I was here for Noah, his character would only be present for “The Ark Builder,” and I had two more men to get through. And following someone betraying his people to serve in the KGB in “The War Doctor,” or reading vulgar descriptions of women in “The Trope Teacher” didn’t seem ideal. Like this:

“Close up, a woman small and dainty in stature, jeans tight, without the revealing curve of panties, he couldn’t help noticing; sandals and thin ankles and bare toes; he felt the beat and drum of his blood.”

I’m perplexed as to why he seems to think this adds anything valuable to the book… And unfortunately this isn’t the worst to come:

“She must have sensed his approach, for she straightened and turned. He noticed immediately the bony shoulders and small, firm breasts and the nipples beneath the blue jersey. She was not wearing a brassiere.”

This only made me think back to this post:

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I got what I wanted from my Noah story, and it’s best to leave it at that. I’m still on a mission to find as many books with characters named Noah (so far my list includes: TRC by Maggie Stiefvater, the Mara Dyer Series, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, and Turtles All the Way Down). If by chance you have any additional recommendations please let me know in the comments below.

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My Most Personal Review: Einstein and the Rabbi by Naomi Levy

My Most Personal Review: Einstein and the Rabbi by Naomi Levy

My interest was piqued regarding Einstein and the Rabbi simply with this featured post:

And the book recommendation did not disappoint one bit, upon starting.

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe, ‘ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings as something separate from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness…” –Albert Einstein

When Rabbi Naomi Levy came across this poignant letter by Einstein it shook her to her core. His words perfectly captured what she has come to believe about the human condition: That we are intimately connected, and that we are blind to this truth. Levy wondered what had elicited such spiritual wisdom from a man of science? Thus began a three-year search into the mystery of Einstein’s letter, and into the mystery of the human soul.

Back in late 2016, looking desperately for a way to reinvent myself or, at the very least, like when I heard myself talk, I overheard a lesson by Rabbi Reuven Fierman on TV that would come to change the course of my life over the next two years.

Sometimes something breaks through to you. It may be an unexpected feeling of ease or even holiness while you are simply enjoying a moment with a loved one. Or it may be the power of the words you read or a melody you hear, the power of being at one with nature, the power of praying in community, the power of a teaching, the advice someone gave you long ago. Suddenly the lesson you need to hear isn’t just washing over you—it hits you deeply.

At the time, influenced by every culture but my own, I was startled to hear a Rabbi state: “Not all that is written in the Torah is the real physical truth as it is,” which was eerily similar to what I’d told my mother before, who was by then already deep into returning to our roots. “The Torah writes what we can understand, not what specifically happened.” And that’s all it took to hook me in.

I started listening and delving deeper into the Jewish philosophies the Rabbi shared, which include lessons on parenting with joy, the truth of love, exposing classic writers and artists for the antisemitism in their works, positive psychology, the different levels of the soul, wartime, Holocaust culture, and so much more that came to shape all that I am today.

It’s become this phenomenon in every book I read or any lecture I listen to, where it all circles back to, “Oh, that’s like Reuven Fierman said in that one lesson.” Or, if I disagree, “Oh, that’s like Reuven Fierman said in that one lesson on how not to act.”

The past year I’ve delved deeper and deeper into the roots of Judaism, and I never thought it would come to save me as much as it did.

Have you ever wondered: Why do I say stuff I don’t agree with? Why am I so quick to turn to anger? How do I establish more meaningful relationships? How do I turn the world around me into a better place?

The other day, my mom viewed this powerful scene from the film The Edge of Seventeen that clicks everything together about sensitive souls stuck in a place that doesn’t accommodate them.

“And I don’t know how to change it” captures best the feeling of isolation I experienced throughout my growing up, like there was this invisible bubble serving as a buffer between me and the outside world with no handy tools to pop it; I could poke and move the bubble around but it was still very much there.

And I need to remember my contemplative thoughts about how I got through that stage, in case the memory slips away with time, so I’m writing this personal post. In a way I owe it all to my mother; it always comes back to my roots. My mom was the one listening to that fateful lesson by Rabbi Reuven Fierman on TV that I managed to walk right by as he said the puncturing sentence that stopped me in my tracks.

I’ve grown and learned so much about the power behind choosing to be who you want to be, thanks to these valuable and encompassing life lessons. AND IT’S AVAILABLE AT THE CLICK OF A BUTTON… FOR FREE.

My personal favorite lessons in Hebrew (Available for English listeners here and Russian listeners here):

You’re not unnecessary. It’s not all or nothing.

  • Being grateful and voicing it so the other side can feel it too. Saying ‘thank you’ because it is a recognition of the light of Hashem that appeared between you. Also: How do you appreciate what happens to you, not what actually happens to you? It’s not the reality that determines, it’s your absorption: http://www.meirtv.co.il/site/content_idx.asp?idx=22657&cat_id=3702.
  • The biological origins behind anger, the rush of adrenaline it provides, and identifying tiny triggers that sets your body on alarm, all of this revolutionized my perception regarding my anxious thoughts. You’re mind is essentially going through all these loops when little things happen that can spiral down to receiving the rush of adrenaline and anger of “I’m in danger.” So it’s up to you to research yourself in modes of anger: what triggers it (heat, crowds, etc.), what’s the root, how do you react… http://www.meirtv.co.il/site/content_idx.asp?idx=22668&cat_id=3702

And with all that off my chest, this is where Einstein and the Rabbi by Naomi Levy steps in. It took me quite some time to fully complete this reading journey, only upon reaching the chapter Knowing You Are the Right Man for the Job did I realize what kept me from reaching for this book throughout the month: the author spent half of Einstein and the Rabbi, talking about neither Einstein nor the Rabbi, but rather focuses on themes and ideas they represent.

I came to cherish this book for the vulnerable tales from the author’s personal life or from the people she encountered, so it took me quite some time to push through those chapters that are just full of advice. I do have to say, the author knows how to tell a story expertly and make us live through it, instead of revealing all the details ahead of time.

Key moments from the book that stayed with me:

  • Judith and her Buchenwald boys. This chapter made me blink back one too many tears, starting with this passage:

“The adults were expecting to receive pitiful, well-mannered children grateful for any drop of kindness. That’s not at all what they got. The boys were exploding with rage. They were suspicious of everyone. They were petrified of doctors, who reminded them of Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous sadist of Auschwitz. The boys hardly spoke at all. They were violent, and they obsessively stole and hoarded food.
Many of the boys couldn’t even remember their names. Whenever an adult asked a child, “What’s your name?” he’d answer by calling out his concentration camp number. The boys all looked alike, with their shaved heads, emaciated faces, and the black circles around their cold, apathetic eyes. They didn’t know how to laugh or smile or play.”

There’s rarely any talk of the survivors right after escaping hell on earth, and this was a gripping account.

  • The author, Naomi Levy, coping with the grief for her beloved father.

“We went to visit the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I walked up to the wall and at first I just touched the ancient stones. Then I got closer and closer and I smelled it.
I smelled the Kotel. And the Kotel smelled like my father. It didn’t smell just a little like my dad, it smelled like my father’s armpit!
There I stood, eyes closed, with both of my arms outstretched, leaning against the wall so hard that I couldn’t tell anymore if I was standing up or lying down. Just lying there with my nose in my father’s armpit. And I began sobbing. The wall melted.”

  • The story shared of her friend Rachel that puts explicitly on the page how one moment can change your life, for better and for worse. From being the one judging people to suddenly “She said to me, “I was hated. I was the evil person. I couldn’t show my face to Jack’s family.” It’s frightening to what extent your actions can lead to accepting a pivotal turning point that’ll finally open up your eyes.

“She began praying the morning and night prayers. She told me, “I love that there are words I can say to guide me into the dream state—night is a scary time. And I love that there are words for waking when that harsh pain of returning to reality washes over you.”

This says so much.

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