Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach


The Fault In Our Stars meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko is a life-long resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. For the most part, every day is exactly the same for Ivan, which is why he turns everything into a game, manipulating people and events around him for his own amusement.

Until Polina arrives.

She steals his books. She challenges his routine. The nurses like her.

She is exquisite. Soon, he cannot help being drawn to her and the two forge a romance that is tenuous and beautiful and everything they never dared dream of. Before, he survived by being utterly detached from things and people. Now, Ivan wants something more: Ivan wants Polina to live.

My take: 3 looks

What an odd book. I don't totally disagree that it's The Fault in Our Stars meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next. However, I think that diminishes the worth of this book on its own. It is nicely written and easy to read from a structure perspective. On the other hand, it is very difficult to read. It is, after all, a slice of time in the life of an institutionalized 17-year-old child of Chernobyl. If you don't know exactly what that means, look it up on the internet.

Ivan struggles with a strong mind in a horribly broken body. He even laments this, commenting that most of the other children in the hospital are spared the horror of what they are because they don't have the mental faculty to understand. Ivan has a nice cadence to his days, dealing with new patients, trying to determine who will die within three months, and be abreast to all of the personal business of the nurses.

In walks Polina and everything changes. If there can be a coming-of-age book for a boy with nubs for legs, one arm whose hand has only three fingers, and lack of muscle strength on one side of his face ...  but all of the feelings of a 17-year-old boy, this is it. It is not a sweet story, but shows with occasional harshness the reality of knowing things will always get worse.

I can't rave about this book like other reviews I have seen. It is well-written, and about a subject that doesn't get much page-time. However, it is also not illuminating, doesn't give you any info that you don't already know (even if it's deep in your mind), and will probably not have you rush to the bookstore to see what else Stambach has on the shelves. What it will do, however, is make you think about it for days after the last page is turned.

Thank you to NetGalley for the copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson


A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm. When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country.
My take: 4 looks (and a tiny spoiler alert)

As is my usual, if I read a book in one sitting, it automatically gets 4 looks.

This book was such a treat! An extraordinary premise, to be invoiced for the experiences you've had in life ("You didn't think it was all for free, did you?"), this was unlike any other book I've read. Much like Karlsson's previous novel, The Room, this story is unique, eccentric, sweet, and totally believable ... as long as you suspend belief.

And that is the way of the story. The protagonist, what is his name... how can I not have realized that we never learn his name?? I know his childhood, his great love, moments that he treasures, his favorite scene in his favorite movie ... but never his name.

The genius of Karlsson's writing is so subtle and subversive, it could knock a sphere on edge. This is, I think, a book that you will either love or hate. I wanted a little more, and I wanted to better explore the path that this was all a hoax. Those are the reasons for my review of 4 instead of a 5. All the same,  I very definitely fall in the former category of feeling. Highly recommended.