I was lucky enough to receive this beautiful thing from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Pop Sugar Reading Challenge Update: 17/40
A Book Published in 2016
Title: When We Were Alive
Author: C. J. Fisher
Publisher: Legend Press
Page #: 272
Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction
This book came out March 1st so you can go pick up a copy today!
I’m not going to be talking about the plot of this novel because I feel like it is important to experience it yourself, I will however link to Chelsea’s video wherein she talks about the book and that will give you an idea about what goes on in this book.
I have been watching Chelsea on YouTube for years and some of you may take this review as a fans review of the book. To which I have to say, you shouldn’t. This isn’t a book pitched at a YouTube audience. This isn’t a book meant for Teens to get their parents to shill out as much money as possible to make a quick buck on an already existing audience. I was ecstatic to receive this book, but I waited before starting in order to calm down and read it with a level head because I knew this was A BOOK, and not a piece of propaganda. I was petrified I would have to bash it online because I wanted to like it so much. Luckily, Chelsea came through and did what I knew she could, write a fucking awesome book.
Now, the reason I know this book is awesome? It almost made me cry. Now you might be wondering why I say its awesome when it didn’t succeed at making me cry. I cry any time someone says something remotely sad in movies. It is much harder to make me cry while reading. There is a level of intimacy at watching someone say something extremely heart breaking and vulnerable versus reading it in a detached third person perspective. The distance from the people and their problems usually helps me to keep a level head. Yet I was moved to tearing up while reading this book.
If you thought a book titled when we were alive featuring three empty chairs on the cover would be a happy book, I’m sorry to inform you that you may want to work on your understanding of imagery. I knew it was going to be sad but I wasn’t prepared to feel so much for these characters. We get to see all of them go through so much and then have even more go to shit. Usually when I read a book like this I feel upset by the end, like I was unfulfilled but she was able to write this in such a way that I was forlorn but not left wanting. It seemed real. However tragic and outlandish, it wasn’t beyond the scope of reality and that is what was truly scary about it.
The book has a cyclical nature spiraling in and out, returning to certain themes like love, magic, and death even to the point of repeating certain lines throughout. Different characters in different time lines all seem to ruminate on similar ideas. It is really easy to make a structure like this seem repetitive or heavy handed but I don’t think that this was. For me, I felt like this was another sign of the beauty in this books writing. While things repeat and show up time and time again it seems inevitable. It seems like a mixture of fate or perhaps a curse put upon them years ago. The things these characters ruminate on, I think, are truly at the root of the human experience. You can’t be alive without having spent time wondering about all of these things.
The last thing I wanted to mention is that there was one particular tragedy that I did not see coming. During most of the scenes where something horrible was going to happen you can feel it. She was able to build anxiety in you without it being too much. You are waiting for something bad to happen, and then it doesn’t or it does and you nod and move along. There was one particular tragedy that was alluded to throughout the book that completely blindsided me despite happening to the only character we hear from in the first person and there being little hints and clues along the way. This is brilliant writing. Not only do I think this relates completely to the tragedy I am speaking of but also to the fact that even after the entire book I was still hoping for something better for these characters.
All in all, I am so glad that I loved this book but also really want to implore you to pick it up. This isn’t a happy book but it is a really great book. This is a book that will have you hooked from the very beginning. This is a book about the strengths and weaknesses of living and loving. This is a book about how to keep going when everything goes tits up. I am going to buying myself a physical edition of this book for my shelves because it was so poignant for me. Don’t take this as a fan of the author telling you how great the author is, take this as a fan of the book telling you how worth while the book is, because its worth all the time in the world.