When Breath Becomes Air


Review by Sabine

Dr. Paul Kalanithi lead a very ambitious, fascinating life that he eventually chronicled in this book, When Breath Becomes Air. However, when he was diagnosed he came to the realization that he had not pursued one of his passions, literature and writing it, because of his time as a neurosurgical resident. With this realization he set on writing an autobiography. The introduction, by Abraham Verghese, tells its readers that by reading this book, you feel that Dr. Kalanithi is still alive, and is still actively influencing those around him. When somebody reads this book, they will not be able to forget about it. This story not only confronts the matter of death, but also the story of how Dr. Kalanithi could not pursue his interest with his busy life as a neurosurgical resident and when he finally finishes his residency, he is diagnosed with a cancer that prevents him from enjoying his life.

The epilogue, by his wife, Lucy (also a doctor), shows the struggle he had to go through to write this book. This struggle, however, was not depicted in his writing as, his paragraphs flow magnificently from the beginning to the end. It opens with Dr. Kalanithi introducing his diagnosis and the conditions he was living in at the time.

After his introduction, Dr. Kalanithi dives into his life before the diagnosis. He begins with his childhood, in which he develops a love-hate relationship with medicine because of his father, who was never home, working as a cardiologist. He also explores the possibility of medicine being his calling rather than just a profession. Dr. Kalanithi also becomes deeply interested in the literature and poetry that his strict mother would give him. This sparked his interest in literature that pushed him to write this book.

Dr. Kalanithi began his education studying literature at Stanford and philosophy at Cambridge, then to study medicine at Yale. He then continues his medical pursuit with his residency at Stanford.  He chronicles his experiences as a resident to a skilled doctor.

Towards the very end of his residency is when he is diagnosed with cancer. With his diagnosis, Dr. Kalanithi explores with his wife and doctor how he should live his life, asking questions about whether he should continue his career as a neurosurgeon or to pursue one of his significant interests: writing and literature. He tries to figure out whether or not he should have a child and how he should continue his life, not knowing how long he has.

When Breath Becomes Air is engaging from start to finish. Dr. Kalanithi masterfully chronicles his emotions and questions, and shows the successful life that is no longer secure because of his diagnosis. It leaves a lasting impression on its readers, but the largest impact it has on its readers is that Dr. Kalanithi was so skilled in so many departments, but he does fall victim to tragedy. He wants to live, but ultimately must accept his probable death, all through his struggle through his final months as a resident.

Check out When Breath Becomes Air at the Newport Beach Public Library


A Monster Calls


Reviewed by Sabine

In this novel, A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness beautifully captures the immense grief and responsibility that weigh upon the shoulders of Conor, a young boy whose mother is ill. Conor is visited by a monster, who instills in him three lessons in the form of stories. When the three stories are told, Conor must tell one of his own that exposes the truth he has been trying to hide. This story leaves its readers at the edge of their seats, with teary eyes. At first glance, A Monster Calls, would appear to be a typical horror story, but in reality it is more than that. It explores the mind of someone who is facing real terror. The terror of losing a significant loved one.  It explores pain, guilt, and grief. It explores denial. When the reader reaches the end of the story, they will not be happy, but the ending is important; it is moving. It will touch their heart in ways they could not have imagine and make the reader think of losing a loved one or a loved one already lost.

Ness beautifully articulates the pain Conor feels watching his ill mother’s condition worsen. His way with words will incite emotion within the reader. Ness uses many literary devices within the entire novel which is a metaphor within itself.

To accompany the writing, A Monster Calls features frequent illustrations. These illustrations are also filled with beauty and emotion that capture the mood of the story. In essence, they are dark.

Although vastly entertaining, this is and is not a quick and easy read. Quantitatively, this book is not very long, but it is layered with quality meaning and depth. It dives into a layer anger, grief, and pain that can not be found in most other books, only in our real lives. This book does not spark any happiness either, but rather raw painful emotion. This book can be read by any age and any gender. It could be of interest to children, young adults, and adults. The monster could draw the attention of the children. The coming of age aspect of this novel could interest teens and young adults that are looking for quick, but insightful novel. The deeper meaning and emotion that this book is layered with could draw the attention of adults who are looking for a short but deep read.

Do not read this book, however, if you are looking for a light read or a fantasy novel. This is not close to either. The shortness deceives the reader into believing this book is easy to read. The name and images depicted make the reader believe that this could be a novel about a villainous monster that the protagonist might have to slay.

All in all, this book is good to read if you are looking for a short but deep book that explores topics that are not always easy to think or talk about. It offers insight into grief that is hard to find. It features beautiful illustrations. It is definitely a book that you should read.

Check out A Monster Calls at the Newport Beach Public Library