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November 7, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Bittersweet Books (Without Almonds)

Posted by emily

Happy National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day! That's as much of a thing as I think it is, right? Either way, we've decided to dedicate this TBT to our favorite bittersweet books (hold the almonds --- we may be nuts, but we're not that nuts). Thankfully, our YA reading through the years has been filled with plenty of sweet and sad books that have marked us indelibly. Whether they were about discovering love, finding out what you're passionate about, or even confronting death, these books had us alternately smiling and sobbing --- and always, always expanding our horizons. I could expand my "horizons" with some bittersweet chocolate just thinking about it. 

I often dream of one day having a phone app that reads into my emotions and plays the most fitting song to how I’m feeling in that moment. I imagine the technology would be set up sort of like a mood ring. Today, I'm passionate. Tomorrow, I’m jealous. Saturday, content. Maybe someday that will happen (including being content on Saturdays). But until then we have to make these "relatable" choices on our own...searching through our mental catalogues of discography. Remember when "Baby Blue" by Badfinger played at the very ending of "Breaking Bad" in the series finale? Well, "Baby Blue" didn't save Walt's life...but disregarding that minor fact, the song was fitting --- for the scene, for the meaning, for the audience, for the creators, for the world.

There are so many wonderful things about my pick for this week's bittersweet #TBT, THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE. Along being currently featured on the homepage, this recently released YA story is one of the best I've read in years. It's honest, refreshing and triumphant. While it only took a few short hours to read the whole book, anyone I know who has read it has walked away feeling connected to the hardships the main character, Elise Dembowski, must endure. This book would have saved my life in so many ways during my high school years, as the story is one of a teenage girl worn thin by everyday social struggles. From being an outcast to her flat love life, Elise overcomes her downfalls when she discovers a passion for DJing and subsequently, her talent for being a crowd-pleaser. She learns a lot about herself through the guy who ushers her in to this newfound hobby. While her love for him cannot withstand consecutive nights and months of playing their favorite hits, her love for music will continue for eternity. With a few parental "hiccups" along the way, Elise's journey is one that reminds us that when you hit rock bottom, the only place to go is up.

Naturally, I had a lot of feelings about BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA when I read it in fourth grade, but the one that dwarfs all the others in my memory (obviously) is the absolute, seemingly irreparable sadness I felt when Jess found out about Leslie’s death (spoiler alert?). Katherine Paterson’s middle school staple has a lot of amazing things in it: Jess and Leslie’s unlikely friendship; the way they support each other’s “strange” interests; the true-to-life adolescent angst; the transformative power of imagination. BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA is a compassionate book, one of the first I remember that told both sides of the story. Take bully Janice Avery; after Jess and Leslie pull a mean prank on her, the pair develop sympathy for Janice after Leslie finds her sobbing in the girls’ bathroom. As opposed to a lot of the other books I was reading when I was a kid, this one was complicated --- as in real life, right and wrong are not so disparate or easily distinguishable in this book. Jess’ tremendous pain upon discovering that Leslie died trying to enter their secret world, Terabithia, without him, and his subsequent guilt, are not easy things for a nine-year-old to confront. But Paterson handles these issues with such sensitivity that they don’t stifle young readers --- they allow them to grow.  

The concept of WHY WE BROKE UP is simple: an ill-fated teenage romance and its fallout. But put that concept in the deft hands of David Handler (most famous as Lemony Snicket, the pen name under which he wrote A Series of Unfortunate Events) and you have a book that will turn a high school love story into a destroyer of your 20Something heart. The book is narrated by Min --- a 16-year-old girl named for the goddess Minerva --- and addressed to Ed, her former boyfriend. As she returns to Ed all the objects she collected as reminders of their love affair, Min looks back on their odd-couple relationship, seeing everything in a new light: her foolishness, Ed’s questionable behavior and all the warning signs that the two of them weren’t meant to be. This book is about what happens at the end of things, and while the story at the center may seem like familiar fare, the writing really brings it home. A taste: “I'd ruin any day, all my days, for those long nights with you, and I did. But that's why right there it was doomed…We had to have the days, too, the bright impatient days spoiling everything with their unavoidable schedules, their mandatory times that don't overlap, their loyal friends who don't get along, the unforgiven travesties torn from the wall no matter what promises are uttered past midnight, and that's why we broke up.” Yep. Crying.

THE PRINCE is one of the most influential and misunderstood books in the Western canon. I could discuss this --- how Machiavelli never wrote that “it is better to be feared than loved;” how he desired a unified Italy; how he correctly predicted the decline of city states; and why you sound like an idiot if you toss the term Machiavellian around as a highbrow alternative to Nazi (or asshole) when your 2 AM debate on the nature of man begins to degrade. However, that would probably bore you immensely. As an alternative, I present a short story (heavily plagiarized), which better suits how pop culture presents Machiavelli. Once, I believed in joy. That was before Alexis Buttface (name changed to protect her identity) stole my glitter pen in sixth grade….

Vae Victus -- suffering to the conquered. Ironic that now I, once proud possessor of the great glitter pen, was the one suffering. Not anything as pedestrian as physical pain. Rather the cruel jab of impotent anger --- the hunger for revenge. I didn't care if I was in Heaven or Hell --- all I wanted was to kill my tormenter… Sometimes you get what you wish for. The Necromancer offered me a chance for vengeance. And, like a fool, I jumped at his offer without considering the cost.

I awoke to the pain of a new existence, in a dank womb of darkness and decay. The world had changed to my eyes. I had not expected such cruelty from the light. For in the embrace of the sun, I could find no comfort, only malice. The thirst was upon me…the thirst for blood.

Travelling across the now barren land, I came upon the enslaved hordes of Alexis Buttface, catatonic with fear, choking out half-words through bloodied, broken teeth. They spoke of their Lord Buttface, driven to insanity by the guilt of stealing my glitter pen. They spoke of her self-mutilation, sewing her eyes and lips shut to deny the outside world. Fueled by despair and hopelessness, she had turned to dark magic, infecting the world with her madness. Alexis cared for nothing now, save her pathetic self-pity. Scars such as hers would never heal. Death would only be a mercy.

At my whim the world will be healed or damned. At my whim…and I am nothing, if not merciful. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!