Wednesday, February 24, 2016

An Ode to Jenny Han

     Or better, a love letter to one of the best authors I have ever known but not known, who has understood me when I thought no one could, and who has offered me a time portal through which the best, sweetest moments of life can be found. Here's to you, Jenny Han; and here's to discussing thoroughly, but with absolutely no spoilers whatsoever. If you'd still rather walk into this book blinded, don't keep reading; I mention some of the things I love the most, and if you want to see what you love the most for yourself, try my style posts instead.
Title: Shug
Author: Jenny Han 
Published: 2006 (a solid decade ago! oh my.)
Pages: 256
Genre: Tween Fiction

“I am wearing an old yellow sundress of Celia's, and I have tied my hair back with green ribbon. I think I look real nice. And all they see is the cake.” 
― Jenny HanShug

     It's a Monday night, 5:24PM, and I'm trying really hard not to cry. I have tears in my eyes but more importantly this really steady, strong pool of sadness growing in me. It's not just sadness; it's nostalgia and gratefulness and appreciation for life, a renewed desire to better my own writing so that I too could possibly make someone feel even a tenth the way I feel right now. And also other feelings I can't possibly describe. Shug is a coming of age novel about 12 year old Annemarie. I read this when I was coming of age myself, a little eleven year old holding a book of this very cover found in my language arts teacher's classroom, and I loved it to death even then, even when I was a completely different person from who I am today. Years later I play the part of not the little girl but the older sister, the mature and fantastical elder. But no matter how many times I go back to this book I never find any flaws or any lesser appreciation. It's just perfect, in a way I could’ve never done. Jenny Han is magic. Pure magic. If she ever reads this, I love you. I love you, Jenny Han. Because you are an Annemarie Wilcox of your own, a somethin' extraordinary in your own right. 

     I could never have in a million years written Shug. Even when I was younger and read this my best friend at the time, an Asian herself, loved it too. It was our book, our friendship. Shug was our favorite book, not just mine. It’s so heart wrenching-ly real. I am transported to a different time in my life each time I read a certain part or chapter. I can vividly imagine everything happening to the characters. I hate realistic books. If I wanted to embark on an adventure through the highs and lows of reality i'd just go and live my life, not stick my nose in a book to get the same feeling. When I read I want to forget, I want to see a side of the world I can't see in real life. That's the point of it. But in Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty series and in Shug, reality somehow seems so colorful. Somehow I'm reminded of just how great people can turn out to be, no matter how awful and horrid they are on the journey. I'm reminded of everything good both in the past and the future; everything good I've lived through and everything good I need to stay alive for to reach, in case I ever feel tired of plowing through a messy life. 

     Shug is a middle school read per se, but like Stargirl, it's timeless, a true beauty. There aren't enough words in the English language that I know of to describe the feeling. It has to be felt. In my heart I feel the stabs of pain that come with change and childhood leaving you. I know what Annemarie meant when she said she didn't want this, or she wished for that. Not because of words or imagery I'm seeing in my head but because of the feeling, because I could feel it stir in my heart and awaken even the most forgotten parts of my being. If I was dead before, Shug was a potion that revived me, pulling me straight out of the coffin and plunging me headfirst into a life I barely remembered, one full of summer nights riding bikes with my neighborhood best friend and cherry popsicles and envying my friend's mother for being perfect as I was too blinded to see the very one I had before me; a world of sleepovers and old people looking so old, a world we too often ignore as we set our eyes straight on everything bad as though the innocent, fresh quality of life is reserved for prepubescent years alone. It isn't. I'm here, and Jenny Han is here, to tell you it isn't. Those years live on forever inside of us. Be brave enough to pull them out. They matter. They exist. Even when you're ninety, that happiness exists. 

“There is something about walking into a room full of boys that makes you feel exposed, inadequate, like you come up short in every way that matters. It didn't used to be like this, and I don't know when it changed, but now it feels like it was always this way.” ― Jenny HanShug

     The most interesting thing is how fresh her books are. Annemarie’s voice shines through, all the character's voices shine through, but then there's Jenny Han’s voice, shining brightest of all. In everything she's written, you can sense her. She's there in the writing, in the characters built so heavily upon almost trivial details about them that show you just who they really are, the tiny things we find so endearing in real life. Your best friend's favorite candy, or maybe a character's opinion on a certain show or thing about life. There is no coming of age novel I have ever, ever, EVER read that's like this one. There's no petty desperation from the main character to fit in with the “it” girls crowd, at least not in the way where she ditches her friend for the popular girls, realizes she actually hates them, and begs said friend for forgiveness. Although the average twelve year old girl's problems are present of course (being unsatisfied with your body, unsure of how to handle change, wanting to wear a two piece like the others) they are handled in a refreshingly unique and resilient way. Annemarie doesn't give in to what the mean girls say; she defends herself when necessary, and she apologizes when necessary. Her best friend doesn't leave Annemarie Wilcox, or Shug as she's called, for the popular girls even when they want her, because she is not some toy so easily manipulated. Something especially worth noting is Annemarie’s relationship with her very Northern mother in this small Southern town, which is a beginning, middle, and ending main plot point. We see how they evolve as people in their relationships with others and most importantly, together. Things that need to be said and things that need to come to terms with are, and everything is just so darn realistic, from the way her mother “apologizes” to the friendships Shug has to the thoughts of a twelve year old girl we get to hear, which will instantly render you nostalgic of your own similar thinking. For a seemingly average book, there's quite a bit of truth about reality in it.

     I think the thing that stings my heart and causes it to swell the most is that a realistic novel has to have a realistic end, and I don't want to stop. I want an epilogue that'll tell me where Annemarie is ten years down the road, or a sequel, but only if that sequel could absolutely, without a doubt live up to its predecessor, which is no easy task, I'll say. I've decided: from here on out, I'm just going to buy a Jenny Han book before I even read it. Anyways, Shug deserves all the revenue it could bring in. Is there really any doubt as to how it'll be? Is Jenny Han even capable of creating a book I don't love? Me, Aiman Ghani, the most nostalgic person I know. Me, Aiman Ghani, who loves childhood and cherry anything (especially in description form), who loves summer more than life itself, who doesn't even have words to describe the wondrous feeling small town life and all things good in life give me but don't need because Jenny captures them so perfectly for me. Me, Aiman Ghani, who loved Shug since the beginning of time and probably always will, when I'm an old lady sitting in a rocker in some living room with peeling paint. To me, Shug will always hold a piece of my heart. It will always remind me of the person I was when I first read it, a girl no more sure of life than little ol' Annemarie Wilcox of Clementon herself. The last time I reread it was a few, maybe two or three years back. I think this time will be the final for me to forget anything; I think this time I'm old enough and aware enough that nothing slipped me by, that even the things I wouldn't have even noticed let alone not understood back then I fully know of now. It's always interesting to go back and see what your tiny mind didn't know then. 

“When something that terrible, that horrible happens to you, you don’t want to talk about it with anyone. You want to bury it deep inside you and let it rest in peace. You want to forget it ever happened. You want to stay home from school.” 

― Jenny HanShug

     But the feeling, the feeling didn't change. Not one bit. I still finished it with that numb feeling of what now? that comes with needing closure or just more. I'm greedy for more of this feeling. I always say if I were a season i’d be summer (hence my undying love for her The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy, which was the first book ever I read that EVER described perfectly how much I love summer, until I read Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury and was in awe for a number of days that where there used to be none now two (!!!) books perfectly describing summer, Bradbury’s topping the list, existed), and that I wish I could bottle up this perfect weather (said whenever the weather is perfect in a way my heart couldn't inhale enough) and keep it in a jar to release whenever I wanted it. 

     That's how I feel about Shug, too: I wish I could bottle up the feeling it gives me when I finish it and spray it like perfume all over my wrists and collarbones when I forgot what it feels like to be alive. I can't wait to read Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before series. 

     This is why I write: so I can hopefully, God-willingly, make someone feel the way I do when I fall in love with a book (for the first time, or over again; the magic in it stays the same). I love Shug with all my heart and to you, Jenny Han, if you ever feel like you can't feel, like you're numb and the world has turned bleary, I hope you come back to my ode and your heart is filled with a happiness that can't be contained because I promise you, for all the color Shug has brought into my life all these years (and The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy too, which I read in 7th grade, coincidentally the grade Annemarie herself is in- but I'll have a whole ‘nother blog post for that series ;)) you deserve nothing short of the same amount. 

     Thank you for reading my heart, and for taking care of it. I hope you, dear readers everywhere, fall in love with your favorite book day after day after day again. I can't believe I even debated adding Jenny to my list of favorite authors. You're there, right up there with Marcus Zusak, Yann Martel, JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins.

Life is spontaneously splendid. I hope your day is, too.

Finished writing at 6:16PM.

Here's to a summer of magic, good books, and early mornings; here's to making everyday like that. As always, my contact information is in my 'about' tab if you wanna tell me your 'life is spontaneously splendid' moments or you can comment them below. Your thoughts, love, feedback and opinions are my favorite. Find your happiness, lil flowers.

Aiman Ghani

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Hi guys! I make sure to read each and every comment I receive- thank you for your love. x Aiman