Archive | December, 2008

From Zaftig to Aspie by DJ Kirkby

26 Dec



How many of us take the life we live for granted? How many of us never stop to consider where we came from, what made us who we are? How many people never stop to think of what defines us, what shapes us into the people we grow to be?

Growing up in Canada in the 1960’s, DJ Kirkby experienced a life that many of us would have taken for granted. Living in and around Canada, Kirkby lived with her hippie mother and followed her mother wherever her whims took her.

Living with hippies, Kirkby was exposed to a world that was all around us but only few seemed able to see it. She lived with people who “recreated the rules”, who lived their own lives and shaped their own existence.

And what an existence it is.

From a young age, Kirkby knew she was different. She had a different way of looking at the world that had nothing to do with her hippie lifestyle and upbringing. She knew inside of herself that she was different than everyone else around her.

But there were no words to describe her condition, no words to explain what she felt inside of her.

Those words, those powerful words that would put her entire life into perspective, would not come until she was forty years old when she was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome.

From Zaftig to Aspie, Kirkby’s moving, incredible memoir of her life, is an incredible, emotional read. There is no way a mere review can recount the richness of Kirkby’s life, the emotion that crackles off the page or the experiences that shaped who she is today. There is no way I could sum up the life that Kirkby has lived in only a few words.

It is a moving, beautiful account of one woman’s fight to understand herself and come to grips with the world around her. It is part memoir, part life puzzle that, once put together, creates a stunning picture of a life in words.

From the first page, I was drawn into Kirkby’s story and just had to keep reading. I have never read something so honest, so moving and so incredibly captivating. More than a study of human nature, what Kirkby has given us is really a life map.

Using select memories to mark her progression from her younger years to the time she was diagnosed with Aspergers, Kirkby is really marking the path she has travelled with memories. She has given us a true gift of a life and has invited us to turn the page and look inside of her.

I could not read From Zaftig to Aspie fast enough. In fact, I’ve read it twice so far and am awed by it’s incredible beauty and it’s story of living life to the fullest and overcoming even the most difficult obstacles. More importantly, it is a portrait of a very misunderstood condition. More people need to read From Zaftig to Aspie so that more people can know about Aspergers Syndrome.

From Zaftig to Aspie is a moving, incredible story of one woman’s will to understand herself. It is an important book and everyone should read it so that they, too, can understand more about Aspergers Syndrome.

More importantly it is the best memoir I have read in years. I laughed, I cried, I laughed some more. And was awed by the power of Kirkby’s words.

Read From Zaftig to Aspie and be enchanted.


The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling

23 Dec



Everyone who has read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows knows about The Tales of Beedle the Bard. A story from the book, The Tale of the Three Brothers, was a pivotal plot point in the novel and a very important clue for Harry as he tried to defeat Lord Voldemort.

Last year, as a way to thank those personally involved with the success of the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling gave out six hand printed leather bound books of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The seventh was auctioned off to Amazon.

Amazon posted in depth reviews of each of the stories and posted pictures of the gorgeous book bound in brown leather and decorated with semiprecious stones. That was the closest that most of us came to The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Fans despaired about not having their own copy of the newest book in the Harry Potter canon.

Then, earlier this year, JK Rowling gave announced that The Tales of the Beedle Bard would be published for the public. Not only would fans be able to now have the much sought after book but all proceeds would go to The Children’s High Level Group, a charity which Rowling founded and helps children in need of a voice.

To say that I, along with millions of other fans, were ecstatic would be putting it mildly. A new Harry Potter book when we all thought it was over. A new Harry Potter book a year after the series had ended, leaving fans what they were going to read now.

Finally, this month, the wait was over. On December 4th, Harry Potter fans were able to buy the book that they had been lusting after for so long: The Tales of Beedle the Bard. I know that I could think of nothing else all day at work except getting my hands on a copy. After work I rushed to the bookstore and bought a copy, hardly believing that I held it in my hands.

Right off, I knew that I was in for something special. The gorgeous blue cover with JK Rowling’s illustrations just cries out to be read. However, it wasn’t until I arrived home that I allowed myself to read The Tales of Beedle the Bard; and what incredible tales they are.

In The Tales of Beedle the Bard, there are five stories:

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot: A wizard learns a lesson about helping others.

The Fountain of Fair Fortune: Three Witches and a Knight learn that we are responsible for our own fortune.

The Warlocks Hairy Heart: A warlock learns that disaster looms when you close your heart to others.

Babbity Rabbity and Her Cackling Stump: A foolish man learns that even magic can not bring the dead back to life.

The Tale of the Three Brothers:  Three brothers learn that it is not wise to tease death.

Each story is truly a wonder of storytelling. Indeed, I enjoyed the stories in The Tales of Beedle the Bard far more than I enjoy the Brothers Grimm. There are several reasons for this but chief among them is the fact that The Tales of Beedle the Bard are far less dark and, though sometimes violent and startling, the stories never fail to charm and captivate.

What is perhaps most incredible about The Tales of Beedle the Bard are the notes made by Professor Dumbledore on each story.

Written eighteen months before his death, the notes are included in The Tales of Beedle the Bard and are incredibly insightful and wonderfully humorous. The notes also give you more insight into some characters from the series and some pivotal plot points.

Insightful, humorous, captivating and charming, The Tales of Beedle the Bard are at once an incredible addition to the Harry Potter canon and the world of literature. As I read The Tales of Beedle the Bard for a sixth time, I am reminded of something I had forgotten.

Magic does exist. All you have to do is open a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard and fall under its spell.

The State of Me by Nasim Marie Jafry

23 Dec




The State of Me by Nasim Marie Jafry is one of the most emotionally charged, incredible novels I will ever read.

The State of Me is the story of Helen Fleet. In 1983, she begins to develop symptoms that no doctor can explain. Some thing it’s food poisoning, some think its stress or fatigue. Helen knows that something is wrong within her but no one believes her.

Bedridden, she gets worse and worse, still trying to fight what is wrong with her body. Eventually, after many months, she is diagnosed with M.E., a disease that she must live with like a strange bedfellow for approximately the next fifteen years.

Her illness affects not only Helen but the relationships with her friends, her family, her boyfriend who has been growing more and more distant. Helen feels as if she is losing herself. And then she decides to fight back and live her life the best way she can.

Instead of being a depressing, tear filled novel, The State of Me is really about self discovery, about the power friendship, the healing powers of love. It is a beautiful story of one woman’s plight to understand herself, to come to terms with what has happened to her and to live her the best way she knows how.

It is a novel of strength and of courage. Nasim Marie Jafry, who has M.E., should be commended for writing such a powerful, moving book about something that is so near and close to her.

It opened my eyes and let me see inside of a disability I knew nothing about. If you read only a handful of books a year, make sure that one of them is this one.

Black Boxes by Caroline Smailes

4 Dec



Ana Lewis is a woman on the verge of collapse.

When her lover Alex leaves her, Ana begins to fall into a spiral of depression that consumes her from the inside out. Avoiding the world around her, she instead cocoons herself inside of her room, ignoring the world outside of her bedrooms four walls. Inside her black box.

However, this means she is ignoring her two children Pip and Davey. They are both held within their own black box, their own seclusion. Without their mother to look after them, Pip must look after herself and her younger brother and find a way for them to survive in a hostile environment.

Ana, inside her black box, knows none of this. Medicated with sleeping pills and painkillers, she begins to meticulously piece her life with Alex back together in order to find out where she went wrong. She tries to piece together the puzzle that is her life in order to find solace. She must confront the demons of her past if she is to understand what she has become.

Pip must also confront her own demons. She suffers increasingly cruel torment from bullies at school. Ridiculed and shunned, she is made the brunt of jokes, of insults of assault. Not like the rest of the children at school, she is on the outside looking in on the life she wished she had.

When the two black boxes collide, the resulting crash will change their lives forever…

My meager plot description does nothing to capture the true story of Caroline Smailes novel Black Boxes. There is no way that I could come close to even capturing a tenth of the emotion, the power of the words or the beauty of the writing. The book is just too good to sum up in a few short paragraphs.

When I opened Black Boxes, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that the novel would be remarkably different than In Search of Adam, Smailes’ first novel. While both novels are incredibly different, both deal with the darker issues of life: pain, suffering, neglect, abuse, sex, death, secrets, suffering and redemption.

Black Boxes is not an easy read; but its impact reaches further because of this. Caroline does not shy away from the difficult and dark issues of life and I wouldn’t want her to. There is such a vibrancy and truth to her words, to Ana and Pip’s story, that the words themselves seem to live off of the page.

The novel itself is split into three parts. Parts one and three are Ana’s black box. Part two is Pip’s black box, her diary. For me, it was Pip’s voice that had the most impact. The torment she suffers at school and at home made me cringe. But it also made me want to keep her safe, to protect her. It made me want to wrap my arms around her and tell her that everything would be alright. The things that Pip goes through are so awful, so incredibly painful that you can’t help but feel your heart go out to her.

I had the same feelings for Ana. I found it difficult to like Ana at the beginning. She seemed like a horrible mother: she neglected her children and let them suffer, choosing instead to isolate herself from the world. But as I read more of her black box, as she told me more of her story, my heart went out to her too.

Though Alex was cruel to her, Ana loves him. Though he mistreated her, hit her, abused her, degraded her, she still loves him. Ana’s love for Alex is all encompassing and, though he never loved her, she loves him completely. It is her love for him that is tearing her apart, Ana’s love for him that is her sole purpose for living. As she recounts her life, reliving her torment at his hands, she still professes her love for him.

As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t hate Ana. Having never known love, having never known kindness, she was broken inside. How can you hate someone who loves someone else so completely but does not have enough love for themselves?

As the story unfolded, as more and more secrets were revealed, I was held spellbound by Caroline Smailes’ words. I was held pinned to the page and couldn’t stop reading. Though I knew that the book would end horrible (indeed, there is no other way for this book to end) I had to keep reading. I kept hoping that Ana would find peace, that Pip would be all right.

Though the story is dark, it is beautifully written. Indeed, what struck me most was Smailes’ use of language. Through out the novel, language plays a pivotal role in the development in the story. From the very first page, when we are given a definition of Context and Black Boxes, you know that this will be no ordinary novel.

Through out Ana’s story, she refers again and again to etymology. Not knowing what etymology was, I had to look it up. The dictionary defines etymology as: The derivation of a word, an account of the history of a particular word or element of a word or the study of historical linguistic change especially as manifested in individual words. You know that words have meaning for Ana, that language holds power for her.

Her daughter Pip also uses language. Pip and Davey communicate through sign language, a silent form of communication. Through out the book there are many words that are spelt out in hand symbols that spell out words in sign language. Don’t know sign language? That’s okay. Smailes has provided the complete sign language alphabet on the endpapers. The use of sign language is a pivotal plot point and gives such depth to the story. Though the words spelt in sign language are silent, they have more meaning because of this.

In the end, Black Boxes is without a doubt one of the most heart wrenching, harrowing, shocking novels I have ever read. It is also one of the most beautiful. The writing pulls you in and never lets you go, even after the last page has been read and the black box is closed. The words continue to haunt you well after the story is finished. More than anything, Black Boxes proves that happiness is indeed a state of mind.

Black Boxes is the best novel I have read all year. I laughed, I cried and I cried some more. And came away a changed person. Though Smailes asks a lot of the reader to read Black Boxes, every page, every word is worth it. I know that I will carry Ana, Pip and Davey with me wherever I go now, that they will haunt me. Black Boxes is one of those novels that, once you read it, you will never be the same.

Like Pandora’s box, once you open Black Boxes, it will be hard to close it once more.