I actually didn’t intend to do another Top 5 Wednesday post so soon, but the topic fit very nicely with something I’ve been thinking about lately. This week’s topic is the top 5 polarizing reads, which are books that many people love but many others hate. When I choose books to read, I look at others’ reviews but they don’t necessarily play a major role in my decision to pick up a book.
Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and the official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.
1) Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
This was actually the book that inspired me to make a post on this topic, due to all of the flak this book received. For those who don’t know, the book is about a young woman named Lou who becomes a caregiver for Will, a man who became quadriplegic after an accident. The main plotline of the book centers on Will’s plan to end his life at an assisted suicide facility in Switzerland. I can fully understand many of the complaints about this book. People have criticized it for being ableist and putting forward a very negative attitude toward individuals with disabilities. However, I interpreted the book differently. For me, it was a book about choice. Will’s decision was his own choice, made based on his specific circumstances. I do not believe it was intended as a commentary on all people with disabilities, nor do I believe the author was trying to say that a disabled life is not worth living. If anything, I think the author was attempting to show the importance of respecting the decisions of all individuals, including those with disabilities. Will’s accident caused him to lose control over many aspects of his life, including independent movement, the abilities to feed himself or use the toilet on his own, and the ability to take part in the activities of his choice. The one and only thing he retained control of was his future, and he made the decision that was best for him. We may not like or agree with his decision (I definitely didn’t!), but I think the ultimate point the author was trying to say is that only Will had the right to make that choice.
2) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
This is another fairly obvious choice. Given the popularity of the Harry Potter series, it was inevitable that this script would be polarizing. This book follows Harry’s son Albus through his first year of Hogwarts. I think a big part of the attitudes toward this book depend on your expectations going into it. I picked up this book expecting it to be very different from the original series, and treated it almost as a standalone that was completely separate. It was not on the same level as the other books, but I enjoyed it anyway for what it was. I can see where others would complain that our favourite characters didn’t seem like themselves, but let’s be realistic — it is now 18 years later. It would only be expected that people would change. I still think Harry Potter is much better suited to the novel format, where we can get the full extent of J.K. Rowling’s brilliant writing. However, I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I was going to.
3) Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
There are some books that just should never be touched, and To Kill a Mockingbird is high on many peoples’ lists of a book that really should have been left alone. This book follows Scout Finch as an adult, who returns to her hometown and begins to discover that her family was not what she thought. As a child, she idolized her father as a defender of African Americans and their rights, but as an adult she realizes that he may actually be racist. A lot of people view this book as destroying one of our greatest literary heroes. It actually interested me because it reminded me of a friend of mine in high school who got a C on a paper about whether or not Atticus was a hero. She had a well-written argument trying to show that Atticus was not really a hero, he was just the lesser of the evils in a very racist society. Our teacher obviously vehemently disagreed, so it’s a little funny to see this book come out so many years later which essentially makes a similar case. I enjoyed this book because, as with Harry Potter above, I saw it as a pretty natural extension of the book due to the passage of time. Scout was only 6 in the first book, so it’s not that surprising to me that her views of her father would be biased. And what young adult doesn’t go through a period of questioning their parents and what they used to think of them?
4) Room by Emma Donoghue
I will start out by saying that I absolutely loved this book. It received an immediate 5 stars from me as soon as I finished reading it. I thought it was a brilliant story told from a unique perspective. Unfortunately, that was the aspect that most people hated the most. The book is told from the perspective of a 5 year old boy named Jack who born in “Room” to a mother who had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted. I was amazed by how Ma created a life for Jack that was as normal as possible, however most people took issue with Jack’s narration. The common complaints were that his voice did not seem like an authentic child of his age, or that his narration became really annoying because he was so young. On the first point, I definitely disagree. While I can see where people would take issue with Jack using a strange combination of childish language and some very mature observations/word choices, it made sense to me given that his only exposure to other people was his mother and her captor so it is natural that he would pick up on their speech style. In terms of the second point, I can see where it may be annoying to have a young child narrate for a whole 300 page book, but I thought it brought something different compared to other kidnapping stories that I’ve read. I really loved this book.
5) The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I’ve never quite understood all the hatred this book gets, although to be fair, at the time I read it, I hadn’t read too many others in the same genre (Gone Girl, etc.). This book is about a woman named Rachel who passes by the house of a young couple on her train ride every day, and she thinks they have a perfect life until she sees something wrong. I thought this was a very compelling book and I enjoyed it. After I finished reading it, I noticed a lot of criticism about the book not living up to its hype, and especially about how unlikeable all of the characters were. While I agree that none of them were very likeable people, I did think they were realistic. I’m not quite sure why other readers got so stuck on whether the characters were likable. For me, it is more important that they are interesting and well-written, even if I don’t like them as a person. It may have been because this was one of the first books of its kind that I read, but I didn’t find it predictable like many others have commented. I actually enjoyed this book, and I was surprised by all the criticism it received.