They Both Die at the End, Adam Silvera

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When Mateo receives the dreaded call from Death-Cast, informing him that today will be his last, he doesn’t know where to begin. Quiet and shy, Mateo is devastated at the thought of leaving behind his hospitalised father, and his best friend and her baby girl. But he knows that he has to make the most of this day, it’s his last chance to get out there and make an impression.
Rufus is busy beating up his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend when he gets the call. Having lost his entire family, Rufus is no stranger to Death-Cast. Not that it makes it any easier. With bridges to mend, the police searching for him and the angry new boyfriend on his tail, it’s time to run.
Isolated and scared, the boys reach out to each other, and what follows is a day of living life to the full. Though neither of them had expected that this would involve falling in love…

Some books are great. Some books are heartbreaking. Some books have you crying at work, and some books have you thinking about them all the way walking home and into the evening.

This book fits into all four categories.

We all played the game when we were younger, in the years between thinking we were immortal and realising we were not. The what would you do if you had a day left to live game, where you pretended the world was at your fingertips and the impossible became possible for twentyfour long hours. Some would say they would travel far and wide, others, that they would say goodbye, give memories back to the people they loved.

In this book, that game is reality. You get a call around midnight telling you that at some point in the next 24 hours, you’re going to die. You don’t know how, or when, but it gives you time to sort everything out, say goodbye and get ready.

Because of this knowing, things have cropped up to give you a good last day; experience centers, apps, discounts….  The app Last Friend is how the two mains meet, and is the whole reason for their day of adventures.

But the app, their friendship and day – all that actually made me think more about fate. I love how, in this book, all these side characters stories get brought together, how the random person on the street is someone important to what you are doing, how the person you might have met is the one you cross the road with later in the afternoon, and how, really, all the small decisions you make are the ones that bring you to why you die.

If Mateo hadn’t have reached out on Last Friend, he would have done various things, but then Rufus wouldn’t have met him and the day might have ended differently – but we will never know, because all those factors did bring around their deaths. Would they have died anyway – if Mateo had never left his house, would he have died sooner, or in a different way?

See, told you this book made me think. I finished it two days ago and I’m still thinking about it. (At least the tears didn’t last as long)

It’s a clever, simple idea that is pulled off effectively – you watch (read), over the whole day, as the two main characters grow and change, even when they know there is nothing to do with that change. You follow them through grieving and trying to work out how to help their friends and help each other, and even though you know how its going to end (spoiler alert, they die) you still mourn for them when it does happen.

I shouldn’t be surprised at the mourning – I’ve read one other book by Silvera and that one got me as well, so I knew already that he was a good storyteller and puller-of-the-heartstrings, but he’s improved with this book, I think. He just knows how to tell a story, and how to make the characters emotions feel just as real as your own, he pulls you up and drags you along with the characters, and with this… I know I say it a lot with character deaths, but I wish they hadn’t died, because I wanted to know what the two main characters could have become – would Mateo have gone back to hiding at home and being careful, or would he have learnt to live?

We will never know.

four stars

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Tower of Dawn, Chaol, and a Mini Essay on What Characters are to Us

It’s that time of year again! No, I don’t mean the schools going back, (though, thank god, because I can go shopping without having children EVERYWHERE) I mean its september, which means  A NEW THRONE OF GLASS NOVEL.

I know, originally, by this point in time, we had all hoped to have the last book in the series and were all expecting to be lying down, quietly sobbing in denial because face it, Sarah isn’t going to let all our favourites survive, but I’m actually glad that Chaol got a full novel and a year to himself, rather than the novella and three months from June to now.

When it was announced he was getting a huge book for himself, I seemed to be one of the few that was overjoyed; many people hate hated Chaol since book two. Many more have hated him since book four. But Chaol… I just wanted to know that he would be alright, because out of every character in the series, he is the one I understand and love the most.

I first picked up Throne of Glass because of Celaena. She was the character I needed back then- at eighteen, I had only just ‘escaped’ from a place that had done me a lot of damage. I was, pretty much, the way they had hoped Celaena would be locked up in the camp; broken down and lost myself. I read her story and I vowed to myself that if she could make it, then I could (I mean, technically I failed, I unlike her, do not have a kingdom of my own and am not a missing loved princess, but hey, we can’t all have crowns, and a lot of beautiful guys and girls around us). But while Celaena was the one character that saved me, it was Chaol, that from the beginning, I understood and identified with most.

Chaol’s most important trait has always been his loyalty. From the very beginning, it was loyalty to the crown and his best friend, and that was always going to be his downfall. Because he was so blindly loyal that he didn’t want to see the bad in his kingdom – despite the fact that the king he worked for was evil, and he knew it. That loyalty was the thing that ripped him apart- the thing that many readers decided was ‘out of character’ for him in previous books (see: when he and Dorian fought. When he had Aelin fought). But loyalty isn’t this black and white concept that you can turn off when you realise someone was evil.

Chaol tried. He turned away from his king and threw his sword into the river and that was a massive turning point in his story arc. That was him realising that his entire time as a captain was wrong, but that didn’t stop him being loyal. That’s why he fought so much with Aelin. Some of it was because he did love Celaena and given her his loyalty – only to find out who she was. But the rest of it was because he had built his whole life on being captain to the king and thrown it away. That sword was symbolic – to Chaol, he was throwing his life away. Like no wonder he was so angry at everyone in QoS. He had lost all he knew and he assumed the girl he loved was his enemy (and to be fair, she did kinda act it).

(Sorry I have a lot of thoughts on Chaol)

Anyway, back onto the new book; I knew that I would love Tower of Dawn no matter the outcome. Of course, I wanted Chaol to be happy, but I knew he had a longggg way to go before that; because not only did he have the war raging inside himself for who he was, and an injury he hated, he had seen too much to even know he could be happy again.

I also knew it was going to be an emotional rollercoaster. Every Maas book is, but this one was meant to be Chaol’s own Heir of Fire, and that book destroyed me enough. And it proved to be just that. In HoF, Celaena went into it hurt and hating herself, refusing to accept who she was and what she had become. In ToD, it was an identical journey, minus the whole finding his own magic storyline. Chaol went into it unable to find who he was anymore, and came out with not only new friends, but new love and himself.

I may have cried like, at least five times. (If I could pluck Chaol from the book and protect him forever, I so would)

One of my favourite things about this book, though, has been the reactions from other people. Chaol has never been a favourite of the fandom, and when people heard about this book, many spent months saying they were not going to bother reading it as it would be a waste (which like, is totally wrong since MASSIVE PLOT POINT AND TWIST) or was planning to read it to take the piss out of it. However, many of the people who went into it hating Chaol have come out, maybe not loving him, but at least understanding him.

Many who went in shipping him with Aelin or Nesryn came out shipping him with someone else (I don’t really understand shipping, not in this fandom I honestly just want them all to be happy).

I think that shows how brilliant a writer Maas is; that she can make so many people care about a character they thought they would always hate, and make them fall in love with his journey.

Out of all of the books in the ToG series, ToD has been one of my favourites, because Chaol has always been nearest to who I am than anyone else, and to see him grow over the book was amazing.

And really, there are people out there that don’t understand how some people have coped through fiction or even survived through it – I think this is the book I would hand them to make them understand. Because fiction, and characters, are not just on the page. I’ve spent five years loving these characters, I’ve been on their journeys through pages, and they have seen me through many of mine.

… and I’m slightly terrified to see what will happen in the last book…

There’s Someone Inside Your House, Stephanie Perkins

One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted.

WARNING, THIS REVIEW DOES CONTAIN A PRETTY BIG SPOILER. NUMBER SIX ON MY LIST. SO JUST SKIP THAT IF YOU DONT WANT TO SEE IT. IT’S A VERY BIG SPOILER.

I don’t know where to start with this so please bear with me…

I wouldn’t have picked this up if not for reading Perkins’ previous series. Not normally my kind of thing, Anna and the French Kiss was cute, fluffy, well written and fun so I was looking forward to seeing what else the author could write. And I’m… so disappointed.

I’m never one for saying stick to what you know. Because the only way to improve is to try new things and experiment. But Perkins is good at light and fluffy and cute. She isn’t good at whatever this was meant to be.

I think it was more that she was trying to do too much, than her actual writing. I almost look at this book as two separate stories, and I think she should have chosen one to write and skip the other. Because having all these chapters where the two mains are making out, or having sex, or talking cute in between them being hunted and a load of murders… it doesn’t work.

I may be alone in thinking this, but when there’s a murderer after you, there’s more important things than having sex.

Okay I’m going to try and put my thoughts into words:

  1. It was meant to be like Scream Queens, or something. The only thing you can compare with these two things was they both happened at a school, and multiple people died in different ways. Scream Queens had a huge cast and over the series, you got to know them all enough to kind of care before they were killed off. I get thats a TV series and this is a book so it would never work as well, but the characters that died? You never met them before their chapters (other than like, for a line) so how are you meant to care about them? Its just like… oh cool, a kid died, who were they? I had no emotional impact about it at all. 
  2. With murdery thrillers like this, aren’t you meant to have a few big suspects and it could literally be any one of them? Granted, I rarely read this genre, but it seemed like Perkins was trying to do this with the Love Interest, but gave up in about two chapters and never actually gave reason for any suspects other than oh they dont fit in. Hey, guess what. ITS SCHOOL A LOT OF PEOPLE DONT FIT IN. There was nothing for me to feel fear for? All these evenings where Main Character was alone with LI (before we knew it wasn’t him) were just make out sessions. I feel a bit cheated, I wanted to be on the edge of  my seat, wondering if she really was safe.
  3. The killer was revealed half way through the book, and again, it was a character we only had seen for a sentence or two, so there was no *gasp* moment, nothing that left me wanting to go back through the book for clues, because we didn’t know him. 
  4. Too much of the ‘suspense’ of the book hovered on Main Characters ‘WHAT IF THEY KNEW MY SECRET’ style sentences. It’s built up to be this massive thing and then was….nothing… when it was revealed. The blurb itself says “dark secrets among them must finally be confronted” but this dark secret was anticlimactic, then literally no character cared about it?
  5. The romance itself felt really flat to me. I liked LI enough on his own, but there wasn’t enough of a spark in it for me to want to root for them both to survive or end up together.
  6. The end was just…strange?
    OKAY OKAY I’M BOLDING THIS. THIS IS A SPOILER FOR THE END READ AT YOUR OWN RISK
    Okay so firstly if this community was that saddened by these deaths they would not all be dressed up as the murderer for fun. LITERALLY TOO SOON. Then like, the whole… Main Character killing him, then the POLICE LADY letting her run off to the LI. Like I get he was a murderer and stuff but I’m pretty sure police procedure is still that you TAKE IN THE PERSON THAT KILLED THE MURDERER for at least a statement?

SPOILER FINISHED RESUME READING HERE.

I’m honestly just so disappointed in this book. I had such high hopes for Perkins, but I think I’m going to have to pretend this book never existed and never mention it ever again.

two-stars

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, Lauren James

Can you fall in love with someone you’ve never met, never even spoken to – someone who is light years away?
Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity amongst the stars. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J.
Their only communication with each other is via email – and due to the distance between them, their messages take months to transmit across space. And yet Romy finds herself falling in love.
But what does Romy really know about J? And what do the mysterious messages which have started arriving from Earth really mean?
Sometimes, there’s something worse than being alone . . .

This is the first book I’ve read in a while that I’ve read in one go, in the middle of the night. I mean, part of me wishes I hadn’t because it really creeped me out (I have a wonderful imagination which decides that clearly when I’m reading disturbing things, it makes my room feel terrifying. I actually had to turn my fan on because the silence was getting to me.)

So… lets start with that blurb. Think you’re going to be reading some cheesy romantic thing, right? Lonely girl finds love in deep space, everything is perfect, yay? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA NO.

This book is fucking creepy. Lauren James managed to perfectly spread out everything that happened – from dropping hints of what happened in the past to what was happening currently. You were never quite sure who to trust – from Romy herself (who, lets be honest, can’t exactly be sane after so long ago and only TV characters really interact with) (TBH that was my theory for most of the book), to the emails she got from Earth, to the person on the other ship. Or maybe you could trust them all.

It was so cleverly done. Not just the storyline but what it says. Not just in the whole ‘dont trust the random dude you don’t know’ rule, (which I kinda stand by, but at the same time, I’m a random girl online who has a lot of online friends so I can’t really talk) but in the fandom sense of things. I think a lot of people will relate to Romy because she uses her love of a show and fanfic to help her through things. She writes her emotions into the characters. When she feels lonely (which, face it, is a lot) she buries herself in the fanfic she has – and a lot of us do that too. Maybe not with fanfic, but with fiction. Words, shows, fandom is a big part of life nowadays and a lot of us do travel to it when we need comfort.

From start to finish, I loved this book, even if it creeped me out. I want more. I want to know what happens next.

four stars

The Upside of Unrequited, Becky Albertalli

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Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

I like this book. Just as Albertalli proved with her first book, she can write cute and write well, and write relationships well.

I think thats my favourite thing about her books. Every relationship around the main character is brilliant. A lot of YA falls down with parents – either they don’t expect, or they don’t care, or something around that idea – but in this book, not only do the parents act like parents, they have good relationships with their children. And siblings are done well too – the two mains are twins, and the book shows how both of them change as they gently grow up and both start to fall in love. They snap at each other but forgive easily and I could just see my sister and I inside them (when we were younger, at least. Now we communicate by text only!) though Cassie was not the best sister in the world.

The only downfall with this was that the main few were so well done that most others fell flat. The sister’s girlfriend fell a bit flat and Will, one of the apparently Love Interests was… well, to be honest, just an asshole. With no personality other than the ability to steal alcohol.

It was still cute though, apart from that. It’s set around the time gay marriage was legalized in America, so the story builds towards the fact that Molly’s mums decide to get married, so basically the entire book is about love and happiness and cheesiness.

I didn’t like it as much as I liked Simon but it was still a light, easy read that made me smile. Basically one of those books you would be happy to spend a summer morning reading.

Also, added bonus. Main character was explicitly fat, didn’t have to change for a happy ending and found someone who didn’t want her to change. so…

three stars

Who Runs the World, Virginia Bergin

Welcome to the Matriarchy.

Sixty years after a virus has wiped out almost all the men on the planet, things are pretty much just as you would imagine a world run by women might be: war has ended; greed is not tolerated; the ecological needs of the planet are always put first. In two generations, the female population has grieved, pulled together and moved on, and life really is pretty good – if you’re a girl. It’s not so great if you’re a boy, but fourteen-year-old River wouldn’t know that. Until she met Mason, she thought they were extinct.

Publication Date: 1st June 2017

I don’t… I don’t know how to talk about this book without getting really pissed off.

I don’t even know where to start.

I get what the author was trying to do. Problem is, I feel like she attempted something that she had no idea where to start, and she just added onto that and kept going without really thinking about what she ended up saying in it.

Heres the thing. We are a very ‘gender-structured’ world. We all know the ridiculousness of the whole pink is girls blue is boys thing. And the stereotypes of girls should wear dresses and make up boys should never cry. But gender- it’s not all black and white. It never has been, even if in history we were shoved into boxes and told to shut up if we thought it was wrong. And while we are not perfect, and no where near being so, the world is slowly opening its eyes to realise that gender- it’s a word that really, that means nothing. 

But in this book, though the blurb reads like it is set in a ‘genderless’ world, it is completely the opposite. Sure, it makes comments about how free they are to wear hair whatever length they want, to wear what they want, thats… that’s about 1% of everything that ‘matters’.
In the book, no one could work out why Main Character River wanted a running machine. No one knows why Mason likes to play video games- They dont even have video games, and the women are horrified to see what he plays? (Like, really? GUYS ARE NOT THE ONLY GAMERS?)
My personal favourite, though, was a comment about when women took over, all wars stopped. It turned out, none of us really wanted to fight anyway. Like…I just. I can’t. Okay, firstly, women aren’t all these, peace seeking people? Not every women in the world doesn’t fight, just as not every man does? Peace, war, all this crap, it’s a non gendered thing. (Like jesus christ I have one of the worst tempers out of everyone I know. I can argue for England when I want to. Most women I know can. If all men suddenly disappeared, war wouldn’t stop all of a sudden, and everything wouldn’t suddenly be quiet.)
Added to that, despite that line, when Mainy first comes across Mason, shes all ready to stab him with a knife? Like isn’t that the opposite of what the above statement is about?!

A lot about this book annoyed me, but I think my main issue with it was the attempted- yet failed- thought of diversity. Like, at the start when you start to learn about the world, its mentioned that it’s only male-born people that suffer and die because of the virus. And that though everyone in the world is female-born. There is a passing comment about those who don’t identify as a women- yet no one knows the ‘He/him’ pronouns (or even ‘they/them?’). They constantly misgender Mason when he first appears, because it confuses them- yet it shouldn’t do, if there are transgender people around.

(Of course, theres no actual trans characters in the book. Which, you know, would have made it more interesting- because what would this world be like to live in for a guy?)

Secondly… in a world where women are the majority, it would be much more accepting for them to be falling in love, getting together etc. And I’m pretty sure this happens- Main character keeps telling another girl that she loves her and they kiss, but on the next sentence it will be talking just about their friendship. Seriously? In the future where there are no men and lesbians are still being ‘gal pal’ed?

I just… I can’t with this book. I’m actually too angry at it to form real thoughts on anything but the fact it is horrifically ‘straight’. It had so much promise but like… why do all men have to die so women lead? Why is there so much fuss about only friends or anything else and just WHY.

I read this book in March. I wrote this review between March and April, having to come back to it every few days because I just couldn’t form words in the beginning, and I still cant.

I just… cant.

one star

Friday Thoughts: On the Power of Words

I’m reading a book at the moment (*gasp*), called Letters to the Lost – which, in all honestly, will most likely have a review on here far sooner than this post does (since I write Friday posts weeks in advance) – all about a girl who has lost her mother and a boy who lost his sister years ago and has pretty much lost himself.

The book, to me, is pretty hard hitting. I didn’t think, when starting it, that it would be so bad. After all, I’ve read a lot of books about mental health and self harm and even the terrifying Only Ever Yours, which to this day, creeps me out. And compared to many of them, this book is easy. 

Except this; grief is not an easy thing. Its often pushed away, ignored and underestimated, as shown by the main characters friends, who six months after her mothers death, don’t understand why she still struggles.

And while you know the characters in the book are not real, when you’ve struggled through your own grief and the characters coping mechanism mirror your own… its extraordinarily hard to read. Only a few chapters in, I had to pause and put the book down, because it made me feel like I could barely breath.

And just like the power of grief, the power of words is also often underestimated. Every piece of writing ever read has the power to change us. Look at Harry Potter, for example. A series that shaped an entire generation, and changed the way people look at childrens books forever.

In 1996 – a year before the first Potter book came out – the average childrens book was around 140 pages long. Ten years later, it had increased to 170, and ten years after that (2016) it had gone up to an amazing 290 pages. (information from here)

The theory is that well before Harry Potter, people believed that children would never be able to sit down for that long and just read. So they never bothered publishing long childrens books – since they were apparently less likely to sell. Then along came Harry Potter (whose first few books were relatively  short, but still far longer than the average for the time. The first book was 223 pages- about 75000 words), and suddenly they were seeing that children were sitting down and reading it, and enjoying it! And of course, the series got longer and longer- the height of it being book 5 with a whopping 257,045 words (or 766 pages). And guess what? Children were still reading it. 

Publishers suddenly saw that if the story was good and engaging, then any child would read it, without being too intimidated by the size of it.

Of course, not every long childrens book is good. Its still about quality rather than quantity, but it gave longer stories a way to finally shine.

Staying on Harry Potter for a bit longer (I mean, I am of the Potter generation, can you blame me), there was also research done that showed by reading books such as Harry Potter, it helped you become a ‘better person’ more open minded to things, less judgmental… (here) Because Potter is a story of friendship, love, good VS evil and a whole lot more. Sure, there are the the downright despicable characters (I’ve never seen a fandom like Potter, where you say Umbridge’s name and everyone hates her), but they teach you how not to be, and the lesson learnt is that if you act like Umbridge, you too could be carted off by magical creatures into a giant forest. There are the characters that bring out the arguments. Draco Malfoy, the bully of the story. We all know he was a terrible child, but, as seen in Cursed Child, forgiveness is always important. Snape – who I won’t stay on because I refuse to accept he was ever a good character, because really, a teacher should never ever bully a child. But then there are the characters we all adore. The Weasleys, who show that you should always help others and have your arms wide no matter who you are. Hermione, who for a while was seen as awful, who turned out to be loyal and smart. And Harry – a boy who had lost everything, grew up in an abusive home and still became a wonderful, lovely person.

And talking about characters – did you know that you pick up the traits of characters you identify with? (That explains so much about me, since the Weasley twins and Lila Bard are my bookish siblings…) So next time someone judges you for reading something, find them a book with a really lovely, non judgmental character and it might change their minds! (read stuff about it here)

The thing is… so many people assume that books and words are just that; pieces of dead tree inked with symbols we somehow perceive as letters.

But books well and truly shape us. Think back to your childhood favourites; to this day, I can name many of them, and I still have a whole bookshelf dedicated to most of them. And books more recent; I have another bookcase where I store all my favourites, ones I go back to time and time again, or just the ones I read that caught my heart so much I knew I would never let them go.

Sometimes we read books at the right time; Celaena, from Throne of Glass, came into my life at a time I needed her. I was tired and frightened and lost, and I remember thinking, as I read it, if she can survive then so can I. Books, and their characters and their meanings can make more of a difference to someone than most people will ever imagine.

And then there are the words that maybe the world do not see. Your own words. People say that every person has a book inside them. I disagree. I think people have their own universes inside them, ever expanding and creating and dreaming, and with every book read or written, that universe grows more and more.

But we are taught to push those worlds away. Our childhoods and teenage years are all about education. It’s reading for the sake of dissecting, rather than reading for the sake of enjoyment. Its writing for essays rather than writing for joy.

At school, many of my books would have real school work in the front, then plots and mini stories in the back. I remember having countless arguments with my English teachers, because according to them, I didn’t write correctly. Even at 14, I knew for a fact there wasn’t a correct way. Writing is personal, even fiction, and every one of us has our own style. School batters that out of you. They tell you that even creative writing has it’s own form. That your characters must be identical and your writing all the same, and they grade you on how near to their own you can write. How- how can you grade something like imagination and voice?!

My English teacher from year 10 actually told me never to bother being a writer because I couldnt write. I mean, I dont know if I can, but you can look for yourself if you want. But because I refused to conform to what school taught as ‘creative’ (eg, fitting into the box and not being creative) I was punished and put down.

Her words could have had power over me. If I wasn’t stubborn, I might have believed her and stopped writing. But while education tried to box my universe down to size, I wouldn’t let them, and I let it flourish.

It’s why you should always be careful with those words you wield; often, they have more power and punch than, well, a real punch does, because words – spoken or written – can burrow under the skin and stay there and shape people long long after they were said or the book was closed.

In Letters to the Lost, the main character writes letters to her mother even after she had died. By chance, someone else read a letter and was effected by the words. They resonated in them and he understood the pain the girl felt, even without knowing her.

Sometimes, that is why we write. Even a published author can write for themselves, not knowing who would read their words and who would understand them. Sometimes we don’t write to be heard or seen; we write because our own words can change us too. Everything we read, everything we write, it shapes all of us more than we will never know.