Monday, June 18, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: When My Heart Joins the Thousand by A.J. Steiger

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Title: When My Heart Joins the Thousand
Author: A.J. Steiger
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary Romance
Pages: 352
Pub Date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: HarperTeen
Book Source: publisher via edelweiss
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Synopsis: Alvie Fitz doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care. She’s spent years swallowing meds and bad advice from doctors and social workers. Adjust, adapt. Pretend to be normal. It sounds so easy.

If she can make it to her eighteenth birthday without any major mishaps, she’ll be legally emancipated. Free. But if she fails, she’ll become a ward of the state and be sent back to the group home.

All she wants is to be left alone to spend time with her friend, Chance, the one-winged hawk at the zoo where she works. She can bide her time with him until her emancipation. Humans are overrated anyway. Then she meets Stanley, a boy who might be even stranger than she is—a boy who walks with a cane, who turns up every day with a new injury, whose body seems as fragile as glass. Without even meaning to, she finds herself getting close to him. But Alvie remembers what happened to the last person she truly cared about.

Her past stalks her with every step, and it has sharp teeth. But if she can find the strength to face the enemy inside her, maybe she’ll have a chance at happiness after all.
 
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*** POSSIBLE SPOILERS ***

As a sort of disclaimer before this review: I just want to say that I am in no way able to review this as someone who personally understands either Asperger's or the medical condition Stanley suffers from, as I have neither. I can only review this book as an outsider looking in. :)

That being said, I loved this book!

Alvie was a lovely character. She is 17 years old and seeking emancipation so that she can avoid being “in the system” until she is 18. She is simple, yet complex. She loves animals and identifies with the rabbit(s) in the book Watership Down. In many ways, Alvie is like them; trying to survive in a harsh world where things are working against you. I can see why she loves and quotes this book so much in When My Heart Joins the Thousand. The story is a big source of strength for Alvie.

We go through a good portion of the book knowing that Alvie isn't like most girls her age, but not having an actual name for what is different about her (I refuse to say "wrong" with her, because it isn't wrong to be different). Ignorant people (kids/teens) in the book refer to her as “retarded” or make fun of her for simply being “weird”. It was apparent to me, personally, that she was somewhere within the autism spectrum, but I don't know enough about it to have pinned it down. This book inspired me to read more about it, and I found out that Asperger's has only recently been considered to be within the spectrum of autism. I will say this: I do work with someone with Asperger's. He's 21 years old, so not TOO much older than Alvie. Alvie portrayed similar characteristics to this person. So, for me, when it was finally unveiled, it all made sense. I don't know everything about Asperger's, but based on my limited knowledge, I thought Alvie was portrayed very well.

As for where her parents went? Well, I am ashamed to say I don't remember any mention of her father. I know he wasn't in the book, but I don't remember if he died or left the family. BUT, there is a lot of flashback on Alvie and her mother. The story is actually quite tragic and sad. Alvie's mother struggled greatly with having an autistic daughter. She couldn't understand it and just decided to medicate the hell out of Alvie and make things worse. Eventually, things take a terrible turn, and this ends with her mother dying and leaving Alvie in search of emancipation. I very much enjoyed the flashback elements of the story. It made me feel so much sympathy and empathy for Alvie that I was in tears. It was so important to the story and so well done on the author's part.

I think it is important to note that, regardless of her having Asperger's, Alvie was able to live independently. She is proof that you don't have to be held back by something like this. She had her own apartment, a job, and eventually, a romantic relationship. Did she have struggles? ABSOLUTELY. But who doesn't? I cry at work at least once a week due to severe anxiety. We all struggle. What matters is what we do when faced with these challenges. So, when Alvie loses her job, she applies at every place she can in search of a new job. She works very hard to make sure she can pay her bills, just like everyone else. She is different, but she is not. I think a bit part of this story was highlighting the fact that she, and others like her, can do anything we can do. They can live a full, productive life.

Let's touch on the romance, shall we? It was realistically awkward and adorable. Alvie first discovers Stanley when she begins to see him in a park she frequents daily. One of these days, he's visibly upset and throws his phone into a pond. Alvie decides to fish it out after he leaves and fixes it. She then ends up emailing him to say HEY, I SAVED YOUR PHONE FROM AN UNTIMELY DEATH. The two talk via internet for awhile and become friends. Eventually the two meet in person. Alvie has a certain proposition for Stanley, and this sparks a more intimate relationship. The two of them struggle through this relationship for many reasons—some of it due to Alvie, some of it not—but they ultimately work it out and it is beautiful. The two of them find comfort and strength in the other. They have a special romance that is unlike any other I've read about before. I loved it and it even brought me to tears when I was nearing the end of the book. Just lovely.

The only negative I have for this book is that the story itself seemed to drag a bit at times, slowing down a lot in places. It wasn't a big deal, clearly, but worth mentioning.

Overall, this book is just amazing! The characters are so very unique and lovable. I was extremely invested in their stories both together and apart. I think this book is a wonderful example of a strong female character overcoming obstacle after obstacle and still coming out on top. The entire story is very emotionally moving and deeply touching. I definitely recommend it for everyone. :)
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