Book Review: Nowhere on Earth by Nick Lake

nowhere on earthThanks to NetGalley for the ARC. The opinions expressed herein are mine alone and may not reflect the views of the author, publisher, or distributor.

This review contains spoilers.

You’ve probably heard me say this before: I tried to like this book. I really tried. Every aspect of this book were nickels in my gumball machine, and in my excitement, I neglected to note that each ball smelled faintly of feet and armpit sweat before popping them into my mouth for the unfortunate mouthful.

To wit, this book sucked.

The story starts with a plane crash. Emily and her little brother Aidan have stowed away on a cargo plane heading out into the Alaskan bush, and the pilot has no idea they’re inside his cargo hold. Shortly after surviving the crash, Bob, Emily, and Aidan are met with a helicopter and gunfire from government agents. Bob takes a shot in the arm, and the trio use leverage from the broken plane wing to ride down the mountainside like a giant sled. Then it’s a matter of survival in the wilderness and early near-Arctic spring to help Aidan get home. Cuz he’s an alien.

Some added internal tension comes about because Emily caught the boys’ locker room on fire at her school just before she stowed away in Bob’s plane, and we don’t know why. SO! The set up works. It could have been really interesting. Survival stories always get me clenched up in stress, and you throw in dodging bullets, you’ve got me sold. That’s how I ended up requesting this in the first place.

But…sadly, no. A lot of tiny wrenches ended up in the cogs and overwhelmed the works like those tiny bugs on wind turbines.

The characters. The lack of things happening probably wouldn’t have been such an issue if the characters had been more than two dimensional. Emily starts out the story as a girl who doesn’t understand her parents (granted, she’s sixteen), hates that she moved to Alaska, and is not at all happy to have traded ballet for cheerleading. By the way, we’re not given a super solid reason why she can’t go to dance in a different town nearby, or if there’s a dance studio in town…now that I think about it, I don’t even remember the name of the town where she lived. And it definitely doesn’t help that we’re not given a solid idea as to which cardinal direction they head so they can end up in Anchorage.

Anyway.

Emily stays the same. Bob stays the same. Emily’s parents get about as much filling out as a half-price taco. And I’ll get to Aidan later. Oh, will I get to Aidan. One of the things Aidan the alien can do is get living things to protect him by appearing small and helpless, basically a baby in their species. He then implants false memories so that these people/animals don’t question how he’s suddenly appeared. But when Emily’s parents treat him like their child, she feels strangely jealous suddenly, as if they’ve never loved her. And she says a few times that her parents never hug her, but I feel as though that’s inherently untrue, as she has no attachment issues or emotional instability. She’s a perfectly normal teen. And later on, they’re shown to hug her and care for her. Like…make up your mind. Either her parents are neglectful and want nothing for Emily but what they think she should do, or they’re supportive and she’s being dramatic.

I guarantee you, it’s the second one. Because when her parents show up to rescue the trio later on, and they ask her why she ran away, she points out these things: they like a bunch of things that she doesn’t and they make her do them (which yes, they’re her parents, it’s kind of a thing that just happens), she didn’t want to move to Alaska, she didn’t have friends in school, and she doesn’t feel listened to.

Girl. No.

This is where my line fell for Emily. She went from being a flat teenage stereotype to an entitled brat who had no idea how privileged she was. From then on she just sounded more and more whiny, and that didn’t change throughout the rest of the book.

And now, Aidan. Oh, Aidan. We’re told that any creature who sees him has an instinctive need to protect him and keep him safe. We see this with Emily, with Emily’s parents, and with the bear in the forest. Even with Bob. But for some reason the government agents chasing them are immune to this power? And even though Aidan didn’t touch their faces or hands to tell them he’s an alien, they somehow know that he’s an alien? For Emily and Bob to realize what he was, he had to show them his true form, but apparently it wasn’t necessary for the men chasing them into the wilderness to see it because they know what he is.

And why was Aidan so susceptible to the cold? That’s never clarified.

And why does his dialogue fluctuate between “normal kid” and “alien child”?

The thing that bothered me most about Aidan was the trope he became: the perfect problem-solving child. No problem was too big for him to fix. No obstacle stood in his way–when he felt like leaping over it. Most of the book seemed to depend on Aidan’s attitude toward whatever they were facing. And for a book that was nearly 300 pages, nothing much happens.

The plane crashes. The trio heads into the wilderness. There’s an avalanche. They find a cabin and eat stuff. Emily’s parents show up. They make it to Anchorage. They contact Aidan’s family. Aidan leaves. Emily and her family go home. The end…

Except.

EXCEPT.

A glaringly, blatantly impossible plot point is what Emily’s ballet career hinges upon. When she showed Aidan how she danced, they were in the cabin in the wilderness. They had ditched the SPOT tracker that would help locate them. Bob was healing from being shot in the arm, asleep in the cabin. But somehow a video turns up that Bob filmed of Emily dancing by the lake with Aidan.

(Of course, since no one else saw his true form, he’s not in the video and no one can see him. Because of course.)

Bob didn’t have a camera. Bob didn’t have a cell phone. Either the author is just not a good writer, or Bob is a cyborg.

Then we learn why Emily caught the boys’ locker room on fire: a creepy football player hit on her. She said no. He left. She got upset and went to burn his football jersey. The locker room caught on fire (?).

Listen. I never said this book made sense. I warned you it was bad.

Nowhere on Earth tries to be five or six books all at the same time. I get it, unwanted flirting sucks. But guess what. Brad walked away. He didn’t grope her. He didn’t stick his tongue down her throat. If you’re going to make a statement about sexual assault or harassment, maybe don’t squeeze it into a poorly-constructed tale about ET and the Alaskan wilderness. Unfortunately for Nick Lake, I’m currently reading The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis, and have just finished reading both The Grace Year by Kim Liggett and listening to Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee. Concerning Lake’s attempt at a social message, he done goofed.

On a petty note, the punctuation in this book drove me nuts. In five or so lines that were littered with commas and dashes, we had four colons and a semicolon. This isn’t an academic paper. Prose only ever requires complicated punctuation if you’re either A) Victor Hugo, or B) F. Scott Fitzgerald. And you ain’t, chief. You ain’t. Not even Jane Austen used this many colons and dashes in the span of a page. For anyone wondering, YES, I do have OCD that targets punctuation and its use. And I hate it.

ALSO. STOP BREAKING UP YOUR DIALOGUE WITH ELLIPSES. JUST STOP. It doesn’t effectively indicate a pause, it just makes your writing more stilted and awkward than it needs to be.

Just…I’m so disappointed. This was terrible. I expect more from an author who’s written four or five books. I won’t be reading Nick Lake again.

Book Review: The Imago Stage by Karoline Georges

Wow. This book. I’ll include my full review below, but dang. This book felt slow to read, but everything in it felt quick. Like it was happening really fast. But I guess that’s reflective of life, though, right?

I’m trying to get back into blogging, and specifically I’m trying to blog about books. As a librarian, now I’m finding it more important than ever to be able to communicate my thoughts about literature in a way that I can have visible to publishers and such. Why, you may ask?

ARCs.

I have an issue. Whitelisting gives me a power trip and I take more ARCs than I should. I do get around to reading them, but my NetGalley feedback ratio gives me daily anxiety.

SO! For my inaugural review and launch of this new series, here is my review of The Imago Stage by Karoline Georges. She’s a French-Canadian author whose work is being translated into English. I just finished this book tonight, and it’s really sticking in my head already. To be honest, I didn’t even realize until just this moment that Georges’ prose is so sparse on description of the main narrator, but so vivid with everything else, that that feature becomes a part of the unnamed narrator’s character.

Brilliant.

Without further ado, here we are:

The Imago Stage

Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. The review herein contains my opinion and may not reflect the views of the author, publisher, or distributor.

This is how literary science fiction is supposed to read.

(Ian McEwan, eat your heart out, you sallow snob.)

Our narrator is not named. Her mother and father have a very abusive relationship. And in the end, they’re still a family that learns to bridge the gap between them in the face of a crisis.

After winning a modeling competition (on accident) when she’s sixteen, our heroine lives in Paris until she’s 24, then retires in her home city of Montreal. She has successfully escaped her traumatic childhood and distanced herself from her parents.

However, the online persona she reinvents on a daily basis–Anouk–contains more traces of herself and her parents than even she realizes until the end.

This book was heartbreaking. Not only does it explore the complicated aspects of family life and the enduring nature of love, it manages to delve into how those relationships manifest themselves in the projections and faces we put on for everyone outside of our inner being. Our heroine’s placid, blank face is what made her a sensation. She consumed media at an unbelievable pace and lived vicariously through every character she encountered. But in the end, she was forced to reckon with the love she still had for her parents, even when they didn’t understand her need to create portraits in a virtual world.

Her father, though flawed and abusive, did not begin his family in that state of mind. Her mother was once jubilant and ecstatic to be a wife and mother. The years and pressures of miscarriages, a strained marriage, and her husband’s alcoholism backed her into a corner where she could only watch the world from a distance. The narrator, on the other hand, chose to watch the world from a distance, to communicate purely through the Internet and never have physical contact, or private messaging, with any of her ardent fans. Only a phone call from her frantic father, begging her to come and be with her mother in the hospital, makes her disengage virtually and reconnect physically.

The lines between the physical and the virtual blur here not because of a lapse in mental grip, but because we put ourselves into what we create, and we project at any given point a persona for people to see online. For people to judge and critique and even scoff at. Our entire lives could be on display with the click of a mouse. Or, a skewed representation of our lives. What’s real in this arena? What’s a display? What emotions are felt to the core, and which are a filter? And how does all of this color our memories: of people and places and events lived, or not lived?

What role does technology ultimately play in our interactions with others and ourselves?

Watching her mother’s body fade under the venomous cancer in her abdomen makes our heroine realize she never truly hated her parents as she thought. On a personal level, I can identify here.

My mother is a peach, and I didn’t have the distance issues that our narrator did with her mother. However, her father’s bridging of that gap at the last of it–him bringing forward an olive branch and making amends for the past decades of neglect and abuse–I felt that. Or, rather, I felt the deep ache of forgiveness and love tinged with bittersweet regret that things could have been different, and weren’t. The heroine realizes her relationship with her father will never be what it could have been, and she forgives him and loves him anyway. I’m in that place myself right now.

Literature is not meant to elevate itself. It is meant to elevate the minds of its readers, not its prose, not its philosophy, not its author (looking at YOU, Machines Like Me, you insipid piece of vapid bilge). Good literature spans “genre” gaps and provokes thought. This book did exactly that. I’m impressed.

Opening Up, Vol. 1

If you’re seeing this via a link I think will pop up on Facebook, please be advised I’m not really on FB anymore. I made a comment the other day, but that’s the first time I’ve interacted with the platform in a year. I’m not sure how to unlink this blog from there, so I guess it stays for now.

TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of suicide and self-harm

I know it’s been a whole long while since I’ve been here writing. But I’ll be honest, it’s been a long while since I’ve really written anything. Recently my mother suggested that I need to start writing my life story, and some people would say, “You’re only 27. What stories could you possibly have?”

Oh, lots. And lots. Life has been nothing if not full for me and my family. But writing those stories down privately gets under my skin, and all the things I end up remembering–having never processed them before–nestle in my bones. It’s too hard to write it alone for now. Feels too formal. So if you’re new here, hello! If you’re coming back, welcome! It’s time I got really honest with all of you. No fancy words meant to mask, no tricky turns of phrase (except yeah, I’ll totally be using metaphors and shit).

Some readers who come back to this long-forsaken blog may know me, but I doubt I’ve told the majority of you my full story. And recently I’ve taken to thinking about what that story would center around. Yes, my family. Yes, my faith. But those are touchstones, not themes. Then, as these things are wont to do, it hit me when I was drying off after a shower.

The theme that runs through my narrative is the long, desperately-wrought struggle to stay alive.

When I was around seven or eight, I remember being terrified to go to sleep at night because I thought I would die before morning. So I’d fight sleep tooth and claw until I collapsed in exhaustion and wake up perfectly fine the next day. As one can tell now, clearly. I knew my mother would never leave us, but since my biological father did, what was to stop her? The anxiety taking residence in my logic center decided that well-thought arguments didn’t matter, my mother was leaving and I was going to die. Full stop.

Except she stayed, and I lived.

Passing off those bits of survival are easy, though. Childhood fears and not understanding death are hallmark moments in folks’ lives. Maybe the people who know me wouldn’t be surprised that I catastrophized before reaching double-digit ages. I’m pretty open when it comes to dealing with anxiety and panic. A bruise on my face does not mean cancer, but rather that I sleep on my arms weird and sometimes punch myself in the jaw. Anxiety has me racing across campus to hide in my dorm because I’m convinced anyway that my jawbone is degenerating under cancerous circumstances. The two streams cross, and sometimes the anxiety wins. Less than it used to, I’ll admit, but sometimes it does still.

(And let’s be real, the time I thought I had a swollen node in my armpit was absolutely legit because I DID. From a pocket of infection. So there.)

Here’s something that people who know me probably don’t realize: when I was seven or eight, yes, I was terrified of death. But when I was fourteen, I wanted to die. I cut myself. I became so depressed that I begged God, tearful in the middle of the night, to kill me so I would stop thinking about suicide. So that I could die and still go to heaven. In spite of my total and complete fear of parasites I will never catch, diseases that can’t possibly make their way to Maine, and circumstances that are ludicrously impossible, the biggest threat to me, is myself.

I still have days where I want to die. People say, “But you’re surrounded by family who love you.”

Yes, I know. The inside of my head is a loud and scary place. My family are the reason I can talk about this now.

People say, “There’s so much to live for, why would you do something so stupid?”

There may be a lot to live for, but in the wrenching grip of desperation for relief–from pain, from financial distress, from constant health issues, from sensory overload that makes simple grocery shopping trips unbearable–foresight needs bifocals. The end of existence is easier than plodding through a mud puddle that’s freezing around you and getting deeper by the second.

People say, “That’s selfish. Suicide is selfish. And you can’t tell me otherwise.”

Unpopular opinion time: I do think suicide is selfish. It’s a need for quick release and an end to everything that’s troubling you. It’s an easy way out. I recognize that, and yet I battle against it. There is a dark thread that runs through my subconscious that whispers how easy it would be to slip off a train platform, or to accidentally take too many Tylenol, or how quick and painless it would be to have a bullet put through your temple.

(Spoiler alert: suicide by gun is actually not nearly as successful enough as everyone makes it out to be.)

The point of anxiety is that it doesn’t make sense. It’s illogical. The big hamper with depression is how good your life can be, but your serotonin decides it’s easier to cry than level out.

As of writing this post, I’m in the middle of a sciatic flareup that has knocked me flat on my ass. I knew I shouldn’t have lifted what I was lifting, but I did it anyway and here I am. Suffering for it. People who don’t deal with chronic pain and fatigue, with anxiety an panic, with depression and sleep deprivation, don’t understand the depths of murk to which people like myself sink.

I’m smiling, but my pain is a real and terrible beast.

A good friend of mine directed me to what is now called Spoon Theory. Say you have a chronic illness, most likely an invisible illness. You start your day out with a certain amount of things you can do, so you start with, say, seven spoons. You have to save one spoon at the end of the day so you can recharge successfully for the next day and not have to stay in bed recovering.

Getting up and eating breakfast, that’s one spoon gone. Brushing your teeth, getting everything ready for work, and making sure you arrive at all is another spoon, maybe two. Dealing with the public or cranky clients, or whatever it is at work you deal with, that’s probably three spoons. So now you have two spoons left. Do you spend one making dinner, or do you have something easy and then go to bed?

This morning, I had a larger handful of spoons than the previous day, due to me actually listening to my body and resting. When I’m having a depressive episode, my spoons are halved. I can either shower or help with the dishes, but I definitely don’t have the energy to do both. Getting out of bed is nearly impossible. Going out in public? No spoons for that at all. Your energy wears down, and despairing is easy.

Every muscle in my back today is prone to cramping. I could easily lay down and give up. But there’s one factor that has stopped me from committing suicide, that fuels me during the day when all I want to do is cry and cover my head with my quilt.

God.

God stopped me from taking my own life when I was fourteen. He stopped me from dissolving into nothing when I had a mental breakdown at 23. He has kept me from harming myself and from cutting the end of my rope many times now. He says in Isaiah 55:11 that no word from His mouth will return to Him void. That everything will be fulfilled, and that whatever He promises, He will deliver.

For the past few years, that has kept me upright, even when I’m standing but doubled over. Talking about my ideations helps me face it. I was afraid what people would say for years, but if I have to face it, I have to talk about it. Silence gives the monster stalking me all the power it could ever want. Speaking up turns the lights on, pulls the masks off, and reveals it to be a cockroach no bigger than my thumb.

I’m holding on to the promises God has given to me, and I know for certain now that nothing will return to Him void. He has urged me to reach a hand out, as He did for me, and to offer a ray of light when the darkness overwhelms. If you need me, I’m here. Let’s talk. Let’s open up. We can’t be silent forever. Our stories aren’t over, so let’s keep writing them.

In love and peace,

Caitlin

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