The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson | Sister Review

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson | Sister Review

Photo credit: Sarah, Strikes of Luck

This review is a combined effort between me and my sister. We read a book and review it by asking each other questions related to the title we are reviewing. The idea is to provide you with two different perspectives.

This review might contain spoilers! We might discuss any part of the story (sometimes the questions we ask each other might be general, while other times they might touch upon something specific about the ending, etc). If you have not read the book and do not wish for the story to be spoiled you might want to avoid this post!

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson | Sister ReviewThe Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 519
Format: Hardcover
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Goodreads
three-half-stars

Andie had it all planned out. When you are a politician’s daughter who’s pretty much raised yourself, you learn everything can be planned or spun, or both. Especially your future. Important internship? Check. Amazing friends? Check. Guys? Check (as long as we’re talking no more than three weeks).

But that was before the scandal. Before having to be in the same house with her dad. Before walking an insane number of dogs. That was before Clark and those few months that might change her whole life. Because here’s the thing—if everything’s planned out, you can never find the unexpected. And where’s the fun in that?

Iris asks Merel: 

Of all the Morgan Matson books you’ve read so far, where does The Unexpected Everything rank? 

Good question! My favourite book of hers is Save the Date, and Since You’ve Been Gone is my number two. To me, The Unexpected Everything and Second Chance Summer are about at the same level. With both books I had some difficulty identifying with the main character at first, which made it harder to get in to the book. Both are good stories, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Save the Date, which I loved and made me laugh out loud a lot!

What did you think of the relationship between Andie and her father, or more specifically how it develops over time?

Andie and her dad have a very complex relationship, partly because both of them have such a hard time talking about their feelings. I don’t think it’s weird that their relationship was so strained at the beginning. They had lived different lives, pretty much all the time apart from each other, for the last five years. But both of them had played a part in that. Neither of them ever mentioned how they felt which made them drift apart and practically become strangers. 

I do get that Andie had a hard time adjusting after her father got home and started ‘being a dad’ since she had been living without him for the last five years.  I  enjoyed the fact that they started spending more time with each other throughout the book: doing it on their own terms, trying to build their relationship. In the end they got to a good place, and I did think that it was written in a realistic way: their relationship wasn’t perfect all of a sudden, they both had to put time and effort in it. 

Clark has to be one of my favourite book boyfriends of all time. How do you rate Clark on the book boyfriend scale?

He was pretty amazing! I really liked the detail of him being a bestselling author himself. Oh, the rating part is difficult though… I kind of have different lists, haha. But to me, Clark reminded me of Levi from “Fangirl”, so that means he did really well! 

One of my favourite things about this book is the fact that it is all about friendship. What did you think about Andie’s friendship with Palmer, Toby and Bri (you MUST mention the scavenger hunt here)?

Palmer: I think Palmer was the most evened out of the group. Out of all four she usually made the most grown-up decisions. I liked her a lot, she was a great friend and I loved how she set up a scavenger hunt and how invested she was in it. I think we can both relate to that part, haha. Therefore, I also understood her disappointment when Bri showed up empty-handed (for reasons I’m pretty sure we both guessed right then before the big secret came out…)

Toby: Toby was a great girl with a lot of insecurities. I think she had a hard time living under Bri’s shadow, but she also enjoyed it, because that way not all the attention would be on her. I think it was a good thing that she and Bri spent some time apart. This way she had time to figure out who she is and what she thinks is important in life.  

Bri:  I have to admit that of all friends, Bri I remembered least about. It took me a bit of time to have it come back to me. I think that, just like Toby, Bri experienced some of the negative parts of having such a close friendship – to the point that they can’t even keep you apart. She always tried to think of Toby first, so it was a good thing for her as well that they got separated for a while. She totally handled the guy situation wrong, but I do understand how she felt. Oh! And I have to say, if you name your cat Mr. Cupcakes, you should expect an evil feline… I don’t think any feline would appreciate that name, haha.

Topher: In a way Topher wasn’t a friend, and in a way he was. He helped her a lot when her dad started doing his work, and in the end you do learn that he liked Andie more than he let on. But his personality throughout the story wasn’t one that made me like him a lot. He wasn’t a bad guy, but I wasn’t rooting for him either. Quite some times I got a bit annoyed when he was mentioned, but that had more to do with the fact that I disagreed with Andie’s decisions than with him. 

Clark: I’m totally going to use this moment to gush about Clark, because they were friends first! I liked Clark.. A lot! His awkwardness and nerves made him so human. I think his character was well rounded since he also had his flaws (I mean the killing Majorie and .. part, that was harsh!),  but he also compensated for them and he had a huge heart. I totally loved the part where he found out that Andie didn’t read: “Wait, I’m sorry, but how do you not read books? Like-what do you do on planes?”  This made made me laugh, because for a fellow bookworm, this is such a relatable moment!  

I don’t mind long books, but I felt like the plot was a bit all over the place, especially near the end. What did you think of the plot?

I think at the beginning the storyline was quite clear: the scandal with her dad led to Andie losing her carefully made plans, which led to her having to unexpectedly (see what I did there?) figure out something new. By starting the job as dog walker she met Clark and learned new things about herself so she could grow. I could see all the different drama’s coming from a mile away, so it’s not like they were randomly thrown together, but I do understand what you mean. It wasn’t just drama with her dad, or her friends, or with Clark. We got all three of them tangled up in each other. In a way this could resemble certain teenage moments, but it did lead to the story being all over the place.

Merel asks Iris: 

When it comes to Morgan Matson’s books there are two possible scenarios for me: either I get pulled right in or the first 100-150 pages are a bit of a struggle and then I’ll enjoy it. Can you relate to this? If so, in which scenario did The Unexpected Everything fit for you?

I can 100% relate! I almost always end up loving Morgan Matson’s books, but sometimes I find it a bit hard to fully get into the story. This was the case for The Unexpected Everything. It took me a bit longer to get into the story, which is the complete opposite of my experience reading Save the Date. A little further into the story I did manage to get into it and I definitely enjoyed the book, just not as much as Save the Date

As we know, European and American teen life can be quite different. How do you feel about this? Do you think this made it harder for us to relate to Andie?

I feel like the whole senator’s daughter ‘thing’ was a bit hard to relate to. However, that mainly because that’s just so far removed from what is known to me. Aside from that I didn’t have a whole lot of trouble relating to Andie. I could relate to how much the story revolved around friendship. It was, however, a bit hard to relate to how focused she was on making sure there was no gap on her CV. The university system is just very different in the Netherlands. I feel like we’re more focussed on just enjoying summer instead of finding an impressive job for your CV.

What did you think of the storyline? Do you think it was realistic? 

The plot felt a little bit all over the place. There was a lot going on all at once. Where the story was quite slow, the end felt VERY rushed to me. In a way, this is what made realistic as well, though. (I realise that sounds a bit ‘all over the place’ as well…) It did somehow work: The Unexpected Everything was enjoyable (even if the plot felt a bit messy to me).

What did you like most about The Unexpected Everything and what was your biggest dislike? Who was your favourite character and which character did you dislike the most?

You do realise this is four questions all disguised into one? CHEATER! I LOVED the role friendship played in the story. I love a good friendship heavy story and The Unexpected Everything definitely delivered! THAT SCAVENGER HUNT WAS EVERYTHING! My biggest dislike was probably the ending, which I won’t spoil, but felt a bit rushed. I feel like Clark is what book boyfriends are made of and he is definitely one of my favourite characters! My least favourite… Well, if you’re allowed to cheat with the amount of questions you ask, I’m allowed as well. I can’t think of anyone I truly disliked!

Morgan Matson is an amazing YA Contemporary/Coming of Age writer. Are there any authors you would recommend to dans of Morgan Matson? 

YES! Jennifer Armentrout, Rainbow Rowell, Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera, and MANY MORE. There are so many talented contemporary authors, but these are definitely some of my favourites.

three-half-stars
The Darkest Star by Jennifer Armentrout | Sister Review

The Darkest Star by Jennifer Armentrout | Sister Review

This review is a combined effort between me and my sister. We read a book and review it by asking each other questions related to the title we are reviewing. The idea is to provide you with two different perspectives.

This review might contain spoilers! We might discuss any part of the story (sometimes the questions we ask each other might be general, while other times they might touch upon something specific about the ending, etc). If you have not read the book and do not wish for the story to be spoiled you might want to avoid this post!

The Darkest Star by Jennifer Armentrout | Sister ReviewThe Darkest Star Series: Origin #1
Published by Tor Teen on October 30th 2018
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover
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Goodreads
four-stars

When seventeen-year-old Evie Dasher is caught up in a raid at a notorious club known as one of the few places where humans and the surviving Luxen can mingle freely, she meets Luc, an unnaturally beautiful guy she initially assumes is a Luxen...but he is, in fact, something much more powerful. Her growing attraction for Luc will lead her deeper and deeper into a world she'd only heard about, a world where everything she thought she knew will be turned on its head...

Iris asks Merel

It’s been quite some time since we last set foot in the world of the Lux. Did you need a refresher on all that had happened in the original series or did you have no problems jumping back in? 

I did not reread the books before starting TDS, and I found that it wasn’t really necessary to do so. Even though this series is a continuation of The Lux series, I think you could read it without having read the previous books, you just wouldn’t understand some references and jokes. Had I had the time, I totally would’ve reread the entire series! I did have to think about certain things every now and then, but in the end, it all fell into place and the story came rushing back quickly!

The anticipation of a new book set in this world was quite nerve-wracking, did The Darkest Star live up to your expectations? 

I tried very hard not to have any expectations (though that was rather hard, especially with all the teasers leading up to the release!) since I loved the Lux series. I think Armentrout did a great job. She didn’t try to turn The Darkest Star in a Lux series 2.0. The characters were all their own, as was the storyline. I loved how some of the characters made their returns, and I think they might play a bigger role in the books to come.  I think Armentrout did a great job writing The Darkest Star. The book made me laugh out loud a lot, the story was realistic following the earlier books, it was action-packed and the characters were realistically flawed as much as they are lovable!

There is quite some time between the Lux series and The Darkest Star being published, looking at the two of them together do you feel there is a difference between the two (e.g. writing style)?  

There is! I have to admit that it’s been a while since I’ve read the Lux series. (I feel a reread coming up!) But what I do remember is that Jennifer Armentrout has a certain way with her dialogue. She did this as well in The Darkest Star. The main characters are different people with different personalities, but the bickering and humour is ever present! The books are probably not written in the exact same writing style since I feel like she grew and changed as a writer, but this didn’t bother me. It’s not like the two series don’t fit into each other.

Jennifer Armentrout’s books always tend to make me laugh because there’s so many funny scenes and great dialogue present. What scene made you laugh? 

Oh, this question is impossible to answer! There were a lot of moments that made me laugh out loud, which you know because we’ve talked/skyped/facetimed/texted about it quite a lot! But for me to have to choose one particular scene… that’s impossible! All I could say to other people is: Read this series, because it will brighten your day and make you laugh out loud! Not to mention, you’ll find yourself with another book boyfriend, haha.

There’s quite some contrast between the way the Lux live in the first books (in secrecy) and the way they live/are being treated in The Darkest Star. How did you perceive this?  

I think The Darkest Star was realistic in the way this changed. In book four of The Lux series the apocalypse pretty much started, and after what happened at the end of book four and in the final installment of the series, it wouldn’t have been realistic had people just continued as if nothing had happened. Even though the way of living for the Luxen changed in one way, it did not change that much in another. Sure, they no longer have to pretend to be human and try to blend in. However, in this new reality, they still aren’t free to be themselves and to roam as they wish. The Luxen are forced to register and wear disablers so they lose their powers. Moreover, as the story continues you learn how the tension keeps getting worse, and how there is even talk about “Luxen only communities” in order to separate the humans and Luxen at all. And I think we all know what happens once you start putting different groups in ‘communities or reservations’ separated from each other…

Merel asks Iris

So, another Jennifer Armentrout book! The Darkest Star reconnects us with a world we were already familiar with, the one from the Lux series. Did it live up to your expectations?

Yes! It most definitely lived up to my expectations in the way that every book by Jennifer Armentrout does. It was great fun to read and I felt that it was so easy to dive back into the world of the Lux. Though I very much enjoyed this book, I do have to admit that I loved it less than I thought I would. This had nothing to do with the quality of the book (this was superb as always), but rather with the characters they concerned. I like Luc and Evie and I think they’re great characters, but I might just love Katy and Daemon slightly more.

What was (were) your favourite part(s) of the book? 

I think my favourite parts where the nudges towards the earlier books and how The Darkest Star builds onwards from all that happened in the Lux series. What I loved just as much is that even though these earlier events from the other books matter, Luc and Evie’s story stands on its own as well.

What did you think of the main characters? 

Smart-assed, witty and a lot of heart. Honestly, what’s not to like?

One of my favourite parts of Jennifer’s book is the dialogue. What’s your opinion about this? 

Jennifer Armentrout definitely has a way with dialogue that is witty and a lot of fun to read. The Darkest Star is no exception! The dialogue plays a huge role in what makes these books so attractive. It truly wouldn’t be the part of the Lux series if the dialogue wasn’t on point (and it really was!).

TDS takes place four years after the last Lux novel. Do you think the setting and issues in the book are realistic? 

I think the way The Darkest Star unfolds builds very logically and realistically upon earlier events in from the world of the Lux series. It continues exploring certain themes and events introduced in the earlier books, but also brings into play new issues that fit the course of the new story and add to series as a whole.

Lastly, since we both pre-ordered the book, we received a bonus scene. What did you think of that?

Do not hurt me for this… I have, unfortunately, yet to read the bonus scene. Even worse is that I can’t seem to find the bonus scene anywhere in my mailbox, so it appears I have to take a raincheck on this question (and beg you to forward it to me…).

four-stars
The Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby | Sister Review

The Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby | Sister Review

This review is a combined effort between me and my sister. We read a book and review it by asking each other questions related to the title we are reviewing. The idea is to provide you with two different perspectives: that of an English (Iris) and medicine student (Merel).

This review might contain spoilers, as we may discuss any part of the story (sometimes the questions we ask each other might be general, while other times they might touch upon something specific about the ending, etc). If you have not read the book and do not wish to be spoiled you might want to avoid this post.

I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby | Sister ReviewThe Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby
Published by HarperTeen on August 7th 2018
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 312
Format: ARC
Source: the Publisher
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four-stars

Girl Online meets Wild in this emotionally charged story of girl who takes to the wilderness to rediscover herself and escape the superficial persona she created on social media.

Mari Turner’s life is perfect. That is, at least to her thousands of followers who have helped her become an internet starlet. But when she breaks down and posts a video confessing she’s been living a lie—that she isn’t the happy, in-love, inspirational online personality she’s been trying so hard to portray—it goes viral and she receives major backlash. To get away from it all, she makes an impulsive decision: to hike the entire John Muir trail. Mari and her late cousin, Bri, were supposed to do it together, to celebrate their shared eighteenth birthday. But that was before Mari got so wrapped up in her online world that she shut anyone out who questioned its worth—like Bri.

With Bri’s boots and trail diary, a heart full of regret, and a group of strangers that she meets along the way, Mari tries to navigate the difficult terrain of the hike. But the true challenge lies within, as she searches for the way back to the girl she fears may be too lost to find: herself.

Iris asks Merel:

You never hiked a trail like in The Other Side of Lost, does reading about the John Muir trail make you want to do so?

As you know, we have plans to walk the West Highland Way, but because of conflicting schedules we, unfortunately, haven’t gotten to it. The Other Side of Lost did make me want to speed up the plans! I do believe that hiking a trail, like the one Mari did in The Other Side of Lost, allows you to get to know yourself in a different way. The type of society we live in is so active and I feel that I always have to respond to things immediately. I think taking a break from all that could open your eyes to what is truly important in life.

Did you think The Other Side of Lost needed the romance, or would you rather have read about Mari’s journey without the romance?

Well, I am a sucker for a good romance, but I don’t think the book necessarily ‘needed’ the romance.  I loved the bits where you could see something growing between Mari and the love interest, but the book was about Mari’s growth and her process of overcoming her fears and loss. Had the romance been present even a little bit more than it was it would have bothered me, but as it was in the story I did not mind it one bit. I loved all the romancy-parts!

Mari sets off on her hike without telling her mother (but she does leave her a message). In the book, it is not touched upon what her mother thought of her daughter’s decision. What did you think about that?

Ha, I am happy you asked! In a way I thought the ending was beautiful. Mari learned a lot about herself and I think the ending symbolises that character development. However, I do not think it is very realistic. Even though she faced herself and her actions during her journey, she never truly faced it back in ‘the real world’ where she struggled so hard to appear as the perfect person. Moreover, she never faced the consequences of her actions. Her leaving like that, not saying anything to her mother. I do not think any mom would be okay with that. Facing her mom and aunt, and maybe even the loss of her cousin would have made the story complete for me.

What did you like most about The Other Side of Lost?

Oh, this is a horrible question to ask! How can I choose… There are multiple things I loved about The Other Side of Lost, so I’m going to split this question up!

Favourite character: I could easily choose Mari. She is easy to relate to and very likable. However, I am going for Josh! To me, he represents everything this book is about. He had his own struggles, but always made time for others. I loved how Josh knew who Mari was from the very beginning, yet never judged her or made her explain herself. He respected her for being there and gave her the space to figure things out on her own. Additionally, Mari and he had great chemistry, so that worked in his favour, haha.

Favourite moment: There are quite some moments that made me laugh out loud. (Yet another reason why I really enjoyed this book.) But I think the moment that made me laugh the hardest was after Mari was nearly swept away by the river and all her stuff was wet. When they went to bed she realised that she didn’t have a tent or sleeping bag to sleep and I laughed very hard at how they tried to make sure that Josh would share his sleeping bag with her. Especially when they yelled at them from inside their tents.

Favourite part: I love how Mari came to realise that she was worth more than the amount of likes and comments on Instagram and that only she could decide her own worth. The fact that she met some truly amazing people who liked her for who she was (and how they helped her get to that point) made me fall in love with this story even more. And I don’t just mean the friends she made along the way (who are all individually amazing by the way), but I’m also talking about Bri’s guidance. Bri’s quotes from her travel journey always seemed to fit what Mari was experiencing, and they too helped Mari overcome her difficulties and insecurities. Mari walking and finishing the hike that she and Bri had planned to do as kids represented more to me than just a beautiful ode to her late cousin. It also represented her overcoming her struggles and finding her way back to herself to who she was as a person.

In the book, there is a stark contrast between the protagonist’s reliance on social media and her sudden venture into nature. What are your thoughts on that?

I do think that switch was a bit sudden. However, I think it was balanced out by the various moments where she has to fight the urge to take a picture and how she described the way she could use the light to her best advantage or what pose to make. So even though the change is sudden, it’s not like she immediately forgot about her online habits. If that had been the case it would not have been very realistic. I did like how in the end she took a photo of her/Bri’s boots at every stop!

What did you think of the side characters?

I liked most side characters in The Other Side of Lost. While some of them were a bit flat, it did not bother me. Looking at the storyline, I think this has to do with the fact that they did not need to have a whole lot of depth because the story was first and foremost about Mari. They were fleshed out enough to get a feel of them and that was enough for me. However, that does not mean that I did not enjoy reading about them! I liked Beau’s humour, how Vanessa looked out for Mari and how Bri sometimes made an appearance.

Merel asks Iris:

You, much like Mari, are very active on social media. Have you ever felt the way like Mari did at the beginning of The Other Side of Lost?

The thing about social media is that is it is really easy to lose focus of that matters and why you share your content. I love taking pictures and talking about books, which is why I talk about it on social media and share lots of pictures. However, it is so easy to think that people do not like what you post because they do not comment or like your picture. It is such a fine line and it can sometimes really get to me. I think we all want people to like what we do, and that is exactly what makes it so hard when they do not. Social media makes it so easy to show and see only the happy moments in life. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that EVERYONE has bad days. I have never truly felt like Mari felt at the beginning of the book, but I did come scarily close to it. The way The Other Side of Lost deals with these themes is what makes it a very powerful story.

Did you ever witness/receive a backlash like Mari did after her confession?

I definitely witnessed a lot of negativity and mean comments on social media. That is the thing I perhaps like least about it. I never experienced anything as bad as Mari did, but I have experienced some downright mean comments. You try not to let it get to you, but the truth is that it is hurtful and the mean comments always stick with me more than the positive ones.

Mari’s hiking the John Muir trail practically untrained. As a hiker yourself, did that bother you? Do you think it is realistic and safe for an untrained person to undertake such a hike?

Hiking a trail like that untrained is something I would never ever do. The risk of injury is big, and inexperience can be incredibly dangerous (can even get you killed). I would never undertake something of the sort untrained, however, that does not mean it does not happen. I know it happens because I have even seen it happen more than once. It does bother me, but there is a slight nuance here because Mari does have the proper gear (not taking in account that she would have had SO MANY blisters because her feet are not used to the hiking shoes or the amount of walking she did). She is taught how to properly use it (after she meets Bri’s friend), which made the story much more believable to me. Is it safe? No. Is it unrealistic? A bit, but it happens more than you would think. I think it did not bother me that much because I knew when I started reading the book that Mari was going in untrained.

What did you think about the ending of the book? To me, some things were resolved, yet quite some things still hung in the air.

One one hand, I liked the way The Other Side of Lost ended, because leaving things open like that is realistic. I liked knowing that Mari had changed as a person and it was up to her to continue the change after her hike. However, on the other hand, I would have liked for Mari’s mother and aunt to have made an appearance at the end. I think that was the only thing I truly felt was missing from the story.

The book showed quite some contrast between ‘online life and friends’ and life as it is experienced offline. What are your thoughts about this? Do you think that this is something that our generation needs to think about?

I do not think having online friends is bad. In fact, I made some great friends online and I love meeting people I know from social media in real like. That being said, there is a certain distance involved and sometimes people can make themselves out to be different than they are. Moreover, people being kind online and ‘liking’ your pictures does not mean necessarily they are your friend. You need to be careful. Careful not to live your entire life online, because that can make you feel incredibly isolated. Fact is, you might have very good friends online, but sometimes you just need to spend time with someone in person, be able to call someone and hang out with them.

And I almost forgot to ask the most important thing of all: What did you think about the book?

The Other Side of Lost was an incredibly enjoyable read. I really like the way it portrayed the negative aspects of social media, as they are themes that certainly need to be addressed more. It was a quick read, once I started reading I finished the book in no time. If you are looking for a meaningful and fun read that won’t take too much time to get through, The Other Side of Lost is definitely the book to choose!

four-stars
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi | Sister Review

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi | Sister Review

 

This review is a combined effort between me and my sister. Every month we will read a book that is outside our comfort zone and review it by asking each other questions related to the title we are reviewing. The idea is to provide you with two different perspectives: that of an English student and a medicine student.

This review might contain spoilers, as we may discuss any part of the story (sometimes the questions we ask each other might be general, while other times they might touch upon something specific about the ending, etc). If you have not read the book and do not wish to be spoiled you might want to avoid this post.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi | Sister ReviewWhen Breath Becomes Air Published by Random House on January 19th 2016
Genres: Non-fiction
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
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Goodreads
five-stars

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade's worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a naïve medical student "possessed," as he wrote, "by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life" into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. "I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything," he wrote. "Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: 'I can't go on. I'll go on.'" When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

The English student to the med student:

What did you think about the medical jargon of When Breath Becomes Air? To me, a non-med student, the medical terms appeared to be very easy to understand. Was the explanation too oversimplified in your opinion?

I think Paul Kalanithi wrote his book in a perfect way. It was easy to read because of the beautifully written prose he used and I think it was approachable for both medically and non-medically schooled people. Personally, I don’t think that he oversimplified anything. Of course, he explained some terms, and his personal course of his disease was written in a more simplistic way, but I think that that’s what made the book so strong. His story wasn’t just a case he saw passing by, he had to live it, and therefore he wrote the book in such a personal and less medical manner. There were quite a few terms that he didn’t explain further, but even when he did it wasn’t something that stood out or I was bothered by. At the end of the day, it is impossible to know the exact definition of every diagnosis and having something explained only proves helpful.

Did the situation Paul finds himself in, and his narrative of all he endures, scare you? You study so long to work in this field, only to perish from something that you study to treat. 

I think in a way, everyone is afraid to die and, more specifically, everybody is afraid to die a long painful death. So, in that way, yes. When Breath Becomes Air, Paul’s story, is so beautiful and raw that you feel everything and the thought that this might happen to me, or to someone close to me that I love is something I don’t even want to think about.

As a med school student, you get trained to recognize what they call ‘alarming symptoms’, and they drill it in that you always have to check for these complaints. I think that doctors feel like they will be able to catch such a disease before it can have a fatal impact, but at the end of the day we are all people, and when things get scary we try to make them less scary. Not to mention that it is almost impossible to catch this kind of disease before it has wrecked havoc on your body.

I think When Breath Becomes Air did open my eyes in some ways. Med school is a long trajectory and when I look back at the past years I notice that I postpone certain things because I am busy. Med school takes so much of your time, but at the end of the day you only have one life to live and as Paul’s story showed you don’t know how long you get to live it. I made the decision to stop postponing social events and meetings with friends for when I have more time. I love med school, but it shouldn’t define me like it almost did Paul at certain moments. So now I do try to meet up more with friends more often and do the things I want to do without pushing them back for ‘when I have the time’.

Paul describes and approaches parts as med school very lightly. It almost feels like he brushes over them whereas he mentions small things, small events in his study, that have a big impact on him as a person. It seems like those small moments are the ones that almost seem to break him at times. Can you relate to this?

I think this is something that every medical student can relate to. By learning about all kinds of disorders, a lot of them deadly, you somehow learn to tune out the part where you realize that a lot of people suffer from a particular disease. However, sometimes it does hit you… I remember a particular case about a woman that had a pregnancy wish and even though we had discussed these kinds of cases a million times, this one hit me hard, and I sat in class to thoroughly saddened and wishing that there was something that I could do for her (this was a paper case; I had never even met the patient). I think this is a way of coping with everything you see as a med student. Sometimes this mechanism shuts off the small things, the things that seem insignificant, and then that small thing ends up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Then, 15 minutes later you’re ready to go at it again.

The med student to the English student:

Even though When Breath Becomes Air was about Paul’s last months and his transition from a doctor, to a patient, to a dying man, he always had the dream to write and publish his own works later in life. As an English literature student, how did you perceive Paul Kalanithi’s writing?

His writing, to me, was incredibly memorable. It was fast-paced, which was evidence of how fast his time was running out, yet incredibly poetic with a beautiful flow to it. The way he spoke, or more accurately wrote, conveyed that he was an intelligent man. At the same time the subjects he touched upon somehow felt easy to understand through his literary explanations. I always have trouble with medical jargon. It feels distant and I always find myself unable to follow, but Paul Kalanithi combined his passion for medicine and literature and turned it into beautiful prose. It is perhaps one of the most memorable pieces of writing I’ve ever encountered for that very reason. He uses literature to describe certain medical issues and I found myself completely engrossed.

In the beginning of When Breath Becomes Air, Paul describes his youth and how his mother tried so hard to keep them on the straight and narrow, all to give them the best chance to get into some great colleges. While doing this she made him read certain books. He says that this was the most dangerous thing that she could have done, for his love for literature started there. Can you relate to this?

I can always relate to a fellow bookworm. Although, my parents never truly had to make me read books, really, I did that all on my own. My parents never really pushed for great colleges. They encouraged us to learn, but they never forced us. They encouraged by taking trips to the library (and taking home way more books than the limit that was set beforehand) or by giving us a small allowance and taking us to the bookstore when we saved up enough money to buy the next Harry Potter installment. While I have always loved to read, I never was the kind of child that read ‘classic’ literature.

I finally fell in love with the classics during high school when I discovered a fondness for Jane Austen’s wit and sarcasm. This opened the way for me to explore the classics and fall into the world of poetry and led me to discover the wonders (and hardship) of Shakespeare, Dickens, T.S. Elliot, and more. I always loved to read, but I learned to love literature at a later age and I have been obsessed ever since. I think I can most definitely relate to what Paul Kalanithi calls the dangers of literature. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that it’s a love that’s never truly satisfied. There are always more books, more words, and sentences to be read and enjoyed. You’re never truly done.

Unfortunately, Paul couldn’t finish his autobiography. His wife did this for him by writing the epilogue and telling us readers how his final days were spent, the following funeral, and how she managed to move on. To me, this was very touching as you could read the love she still felt for her late husband. How did you perceive the epilogue? Was it structurally as good as the rest of the book written by Paul himself? Or did you have some difficulties with her way of writing?

The way this book ended, with the epilogue this way, is what makes the ending so powerful. Her writing is incredibly powerful and emotional. Her words are what broke me down. When you start reading When Breath Becomes Air you know the way it is going to end. There’s this sense of impending doom throughout the entire book and Lucy brought a measure of peace with her words. I felt quite hopeless near the end of the novel and, although her unflinchingly honesty was sometimes hard to take, the grief in every word, Lucy brings a spark of hope to the story as well. That, to me, was beautiful. Her prose, too, was beautiful and I think you’ll find her touch upon Paul’s work infused throughout the entire novel as Lucy was the one to bring When Breath Becomes Air to completion.

While reading Paul’s last chapter I had a certain moment thinking ‘this would be the perfect ending.’ It’s a sad and terrible ending, but it’s almost like he’s concluding his story here, without knowing that this was actually the last chapter that he would ever write. Did you feel the same way?

Definitely, I think part of what makes this book so powerful is its ending. Paul had his life taken away at such a young age, but When Breath Becomes Air isn’t a story about dying, it’s a story about living. Paul Kalanithi was an incredibly talented and inspiring individual who had some incredibly important things to say about life and about living life. I think the ending of When Breath Becomes Air conveys this view: even in that last chapter Paul Kalanithi wasn’t focused on death, he was focused on living and that’s what makes the ending so powerful.

five-stars