BOOK REVIEW | The Institute by Stephen King

4/5 stars

Reading Stephen King is always fun, even when the story is about kids being kidnapped, incarcerated, and forced to undergo brutal experiments and punishments.

It’s best to go into The Institute without knowing too much – much of the horror and tension comes comes from trying to figure out what on earth is going on. The story begins with Tim, a police officer who is starting anew after a series of events lands him in a small town where he’ll work as a “night knocker”. Gears switch to Luke Ellis, a gifted boy on the brink of starting at a school for exceptional children. On one fateful night, in under 2 minutes, Luke is kidnapped and his parents murdered. He wakes up in a room nearly identical to his own, but far from home.

At the “institute”, Luke meets other kids who are there under similar circumstances. Kalisha and Nick help him to settle into this new world, and he does the same for the kids who come after him. The kids don’t know why they are there, but they know it has something to do with their exceptional abilities. Some of the kids are TK (telekinetic), and others TP (telepathic), all with varying degrees of skill and control. The adults running the institute are brutal, often torturing the kids if they misbehave or sabotage the experiments. Eventually, kids are moved to the “back half” and never seen again. No one has ever escaped before, but Luke is determined to take action before he’s lost forever. Tim and Luke eventually collide, leading to an action packed finale.

As usual, King writes kids so well. Every once in a while he uses a phrase that sounds a little dated when it’s supposed to be said by a 12 year old, but aside from that his kids are always endearing, even (especially?) when flawed. They form special friendships at the institute, especially Luke and a younger boy named Avery. They are bound through their shared trauma.

I haven’t read Firestarter, but I’ve heard many others say that there are a lot of similarities to The Institute so I may need to read it soon! This will keep you flipping the pages as you seek to find out why these kids have been taken, and why there is such an interest in their unique abilities.

BOOK REVIEW | Harvard Square by André Aciman

4/5 stars

Perhaps he was a stand-in for who I was, a primitive version of the me I’d lost track of and sloughed off in America. My shadow self, my picture of Dorian Gray, my mad brother in the attic, my Mr Hyde, my very, very rough draft. Me unmasked, unchained, unleashed, unfinished: me untrammeled, me in rags, me enraged. Me without books, without finish, without a green card. 

André Aciman’s flare for writing internal dialogue is alive and well in Harvard Square, as is his focus on meaningful relationships. While romantic relationships are explored in this work, Aciman’s focus here is on the power of male friendship. Told through the lens of the immigrant experience, Aciman explores an unlikely, and occasionally unwelcome, friendship.

In recounting his days as a student at Harvard, our unnamed narrator reflects on his old friend Kalaj (short for Kalashnikov). He meets Kalaj by chance one day at Café Algiers, a local eatery and hangout. Kalaj is everything he is not – loud, opinionated, and unabashedly forward with women. The two bond and develop a sort of love-hate friendship, though they connect deeply on their experiences as immigrants in America. Our narrator is Jewish, from Alexandria, Egypt, while Kalaj is from the Tunisia; they struggle with both money and assimilation, they long for France and the feeling of home.

I adored the ending of this book; it’s subtle, but remind us of the imprint that people have in our lives, even ones that are long forgotten. While our narrator is often frustrated with Kalaj’s big personality, the two shared a unique friendship that leaves a lasting impact. As this is my third Aciman read, I feel like I have a good grasp of his writing. Aciman is well read and highly intelligent, there is no doubt about that. There are moments in this book that drag a little, alienating readers who may not be as well versed in certain topics as he is. Overall, this was another great Aciman book, and I’m looking forward to continuing with his backlist.

BOOK REVIEW | Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel– a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan–from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami.

Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.

My thoughts:
I have no sense of self. I have no personality, no brilliant color. That’s always been my problem. I feel like an empty vessel. I have a shape, I guess, as a container, but there’s nothing inside. 

Haruki Murakami broke my heart with his gorgeous story of Tsukuru Tazaki and his search for what it all means. In his high school days, Tsukuru was a part of a special friendship; a group of five that were truly inseparable. Four of his friends share a unique bond – their last names all represent a color: Aka is red, Ao is blue, Shiro is white, and Kuro is black. Tsukuru, however, feels colorless as his name simply translates as “the builder”.

In his college years, without warning, his four friends reveal that they will no longer speak to him leaving Tsukuru ostracized and alone. Tsukuru has no idea why this occurred, but is convinced that his flaws are what led to this  abandonment. Though painfully suicidal, Tsukuru manages to graduate from college and build a successful career. Tsukuru eventually meets a woman named Sara, and with her encouragement realizes he must face his past and release his pain so that he can move into his future. On the cusp of a great romance, Tsukuru journeys to reconnect with his old friends and put to rest this difficult part of his life. His reunions open old wounds, but also pave the way for new discoveries.

I went into this book knowing little about the plot, and it turned out I was in the perfect mindset for something like this. Murakami examines many complexities of modern life with writing that is clean and straight forward; his insights aren’t muddied by overly colorful prose. The language is clear and direct, and it’s not nessecary to dig into the text for meaning: it’s all laid bare. Many Murakami fans suggest reading this work later, not as your introduction to his writing. I absolutely adored this book, though, and am now excited to dive into the magical realism that he is known for.