Post-High School Reality Quest by Meg Eden – Makes the Grade

 

One way I like to give back to the writing community is to help new and aspiring writers spread the word about their books. This activity has been a revelation. Most beginning writers are surprisingly good; some need to put that pen, that tablet, that laptop, away and get a job that has nothing to do with writing.

Every once in a while, I come across a gem. Now, if I had seen Meg Eden’s new book, Post-High School Reality Quest (PHSRQ) in a bookstore, I would have passed it over. A story about a young woman’s final year of high school and the beginning of her collegiate career is not exactly in my wheelhouse. But that has changed; after reading Ms. Eden’s novel, I will now be on the lookout for any subsequent offerings.

PHSRQ is the story of Buffy, a gamer girl who goes through a significant period of her life as if she is living in a virtual reality where real life situations can be replayed should anything go awry. As the story progresses, however, Buffy and her gamer friends learn their decisions may have irreversible and sometimes devastating consequences.

I like the development of the characters in this story. They feel like real people, and just like real people, they are unpredictable and did things that often surprised me.

More than anything, I enjoyed the superb writing of Ms. Eden. Though I have little in common with the characters in PHSRQ, I became immersed in the story. High quality writing finds eager readers. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to review this book. Five stars and highly recommended.

Real Change is not a Myth

My favorite literary character of all time is Sydney Carton from Charles Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities. Sydney is the archetypal “Ne’er do well” who resurrects his abysmal life just in time to save the day by sacrificing himself for the woman he loves. It is a classic redemptive saga that gives me a strong hope that change, real change, is feasible in my life.

Everyone has problems: some are personal, some are circumstantial and others may be physical. Some of us have issues that are deeply hidden and other have problems that are out there for everyone to see. A few of those are coyote ugly and the world judges the possessors very harshly.

The hidden concerns do not escape notice either, because we know they exist in the darkness within our souls. The secret burdens and sins people deal with day by day crush out light and life. Indeed, we often become our own jury, judge and executioner in condemning ourselves. We often accept blame for the things we cannot control. Moreover, the mere possibility our skeletons will be exposed becomes an additional burdensome weight.

So we cover up and hide, hoping to avoid disclosure as long as possible. We were never meant to live that way. Fortunately, no matter what the problem may be, there is a way out. The first part of digging out of whatever hole we are in is to find the inspiration to want something better, and that is why I look to Sydney Carton.

Stories such as A Tale of Two Cities, among many others, provide for us a glimpse of special characters that mirror our mythic self. The person we would most like to be if we had the choice. The kind of person we dream we could be, if only we could change and eliminate the pathetic dregs that contaminate our personal being. That Sydney Carton is a fictitious character is of no importance because the author has made him so real in his abject weakness. I can relate to weakness quite well, and I can share his desire to become a better man.

Subsequently, I want to share in the heroic acts that redeem his person. I find in myself the desire to change even if the road is as difficult as it was for Sydney Carton. From that point the choice is mine if I wish to pursue real change in my life, but I have certainly been shown the way out.

All the Light We Cannot See – a review

by James Reagan

Anthony Doerr’s latest novel, All the Light That We Cannot See, does not waste any time in throwing the readers into the action. The first couple chapters detail the World War II bombing of Saint-Malo, showing it from the perspective of the novel’s two main characters Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig. After setting up the peril brought on by the bombing, Doerr decides to dial it back and to use flashbacks to describe the steps that brought these characters to Saint-Malo during the bombing.

We then get to see both characters grow up through the years, each being affected by the horrors of World War II in different ways. Marie-Laure becomes totally blind at the age of six years old and as a result, she becomes extremely dependent upon her father, a museum locksmith. Doerr is able to display their simple life together in Paris as being idyllic, which makes it all the more tragic when the Nazis take over Paris and both father and daughter are forced to flee to a reclusive uncle’s house in Saint-Malo.

Werner is a German orphan who lives in an orphanage with his younger sister Jutta in the sleepy coal-mining town of Zollverein. It becomes clear even at a young age that Werner is exceptionally gifted at working with radios and so he ends up finding an unexpected deliverance from life as a coal miner by getting accepted into the Hitler Youth Academy. Even though the academy proves to be brutal place, Werner excels mostly due to his skills at working with radios and eventually he becomes a private with the Wehrmacht, which leads to him working in Saint-Malo right before the bombing.

As the chapters go by alternating between the lives of these two characters, there is a ton of buildup for the moment when they finally meet. And though it takes over 400 pages for that meeting to occur, it is well worth the wait. Doerr chooses for a complex, non-linear way of telling the story and though it is a little confusing to follow, the payoff is satisfactory when things come together later in the story.

The weakest part of the story is a “magical” diamond that Marie-Laure’s father brings with them when they flee Paris. This gem is supposedly the most valuable item in Paris’s Museum of Natural History as it has the power to protect its owner from death, though at the cost of hurting those that the owner cares about. A third stream of POV comes into play later in the book when a stereotypical evil Nazi named von Rumpel becomes obsessed with tracking down the LeBlanc’s and taking the diamond for his own selfish reasons.

Overall this book is a great read for anyone who is interested in historical fiction concerning World War II as Doerr does not skimp on the details and seems to have done his homework researching the novel. It is also not a book that you want to miss if you love reading beautiful descriptions and powerful passages that do an impressive job of bringing the story to life. Even with the somewhat clichéd subplot involving the diamond, the story is a strong one and it results in an ending that feels very grounded in reality for what actually happens to war survivors.

James Reagan is an aspiring freelance writer with a degree in Journalism from Messiah College. He enjoys reading and reviewing great books, as well as blogging about sports on Pro Football Spot.