– I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. –
The Fault In Our Stars meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko is a life-long resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. For the most part, every day is exactly the same for Ivan, which is why he turns everything into a game, manipulating people and events around him for his own amusement.
Until Polina arrives. She steals his books. She challenges his routine. The nurses like her.
She is exquisite. Soon, he cannot help being drawn to her and the two forge a romance that is tenuous and beautiful and everything they never dared dream of. Before, he survived by being utterly detached from things and people. Now, Ivan wants something more: Ivan wants Polina to live.
I chose this book because…
There’s something very interesting about that last sentence: “Ivan wants Polina to live,” as opposed to wanting her or wanting to live together or something selfish like that. This doesn’t sound like your typical love story. You know how I love my strange cases, and the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children sounds like a place full of them. I wonder where Ivan and Polina will take me, and I hope it’s full of mischief.
Upon reading it…
Ivan Isaenko is one of those kids you’d look at and shake your head and say, “He has so much potential, if only he’d stop wasting it on etc. etc. etc.” (Like getting a nice fancy camera only to use it to zoom up on your friends’ faces and take attractive pictures of them.) Well, you wouldn’t think that upon looking at him because of the slight fact that his body is “horribly incomplete” with only a left arm on which he has two fingers and a thumb and only asymmetrical nubs for the rest of his appendages over which stretches nearly transparent skin, but upon discovering the genius of his mind you would.
What does a teenage boy do with all that genius when he hasn’t places to go or opportunities to take? Well, he reads tons of books. And acts catatonic in order to eavesdrop on conversations and obtain accurate intelligence, making sure to also do this every second then every third day of his allotted afternoon TV hour for the illusion of randomness so that the nurses don’t suspect that his comas occur too conveniently. And of course he creates his own fun.
“I have nothing to compare my hospitalities to, but from what little I know of the outside world, I am fairly certain that my comrades and I live in hell. For most of us, the hell is in our bodies; for others, the hell is in our heads. And there is no mistaking that, for each of us, hell is in the empty, clinical, perfectly adequate, smudgy, off-white brick walls that hold us in here. In spite of my intelligence, I’m forced to accept that I’m one of the lucky ones.”
It’s a hard life filled with bad karma that never seems to balance itself out–stuck in the same hellish routine in the same hellish place in the same hellish body. But this story was not a depressing read (most of the time). In fact, I often found myself smiling and thinking endearingly, “Oh Ivan.” This is the only world he’s ever known, and we see it through his unique filter of sarcasm, cynicism, dark humour, and social ineptitude. It’s a refreshing story after the ableist Me Before You, in which we get to see Ivan not as a mutant freak or as a pitiful handicap but as a teenage boy.
If you like this, you might like…
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
**quotes have not been checked against a finished copy of the book**
I’m often asked at dinner parties and cocktail hours about the secret life of an editor. By now I have a canned response for this question; I pompously suggest that my job is Godlike. I help create worlds and decide which dreams of men are released into the cosmos to become woven into our collective consciousness.
There are corners of the world where voices cannot be heard; voices so tortured and yet so alive, so singular, and yet so familiar that they beseech the able for a path to hearts and minds.
I’m seventeen years old, approximately male, and I live in an asylum for mutant children.
Mostly, I choose to leave the hell of my surroundings in favor of the slightly more palatable hell of my mind.
You little hui morzhovy! *Roughly translates from Russian as “walrus dick.”
I only remember the look on the face of the nurse, which spoke so many things.
It said, “I hate menstruating.”
It said, “I’ve come to hate other things too, but I can’t draw a line between what I really hate and you.”
Despite the smallness of my world, I’m able to mix my observations with a bit of imagination into compelling story lines in which I star. I will play anything from the hero to the villain, but at no time am I the observer, because that is what I already am, every minute of every day. I appreciate the freedom; I learned a long time ago that there are no consequences to the things that happen inside my mind.
She said that my self-awareness makes life worth living. I said that my self-awareness makes life lonely.
At first, this had the counterproductive effect of making me feel more freakish. But I’ve had too much time to watch the behavior of normal people to know that they’re not any different.
I can eventually, with enough time, sweat, and sometimes blood, learn to do just about anything with only one arm (the only exception to this rule is cutting a hard-boiled egg)…
I, quite predictably, panicked, unlocked my chair, turned myself around, and wheeled myself away as fast I could, which, of course, is not that fast because I only have one arm.
When I looked into Dr. Sokolov’s eyes, I noticed that she lived about three inches behind them.
Life is unbearable, but it has the benefit of being real.
The comforting truth about time is that no matter how slow it seems to move, it still passes nevertheless…
You’ll find, Ivan, that most of the evil in the world is done by men who are addicted to their own thoughts.
This is why I was terrified to open my mouth in front of her—I knew I could not be both myself and likable at the same time.
Reader, in that place, at that time, Polina wasn’t dying, and I wasn’t a mutant. We shed our bodies and met in another place.
But you are levels of strange I’ve never met, and I’ve met strange.
“It makes no sense to be afraid of anything, let alone everything.”
“It doesn’t mean you aren’t.”
Blin! *Literally translated as “Pancake!” but the connotation is “Shit!”
Dying is like truth serum.
“Just ten seconds, Ivan,” she said. “That’s all it takes.” This was true, except that time lives in the mind, and seconds stop being seconds when your heart is on fire.
When you’re inside, everything is comfortably broken. When you’re out here, everything is alive. But you feel better around broken things.
“I don’t like you.”
“I don’t care enough to like or not like you.”
There are as many themes in Ivan’s story as there are pages. It is at once a love story, a revelation of the dark legacy of the Soviet experiment, a conversation on medical ethics, a reproach of religious hypocrisy, and an admonition against choosing fear over purpose. But, ultimately, it is simply the story of a single human life, within which so much can be held. We hope the reader can pause to appreciate that fact.