Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: The Paper Swan by Leylah Attar

It's not everyday that a book touches you right in the center of your being. We read to escape, to understand other people, to visit places we'll never see. And every so often a book comes along, that on the surface has no resemblance whatsoever to your life, yet tells a story that speaks your truth, that makes you stop and look around and wonder how they knew. How could a story so vastly different from your own just understand, just know what you know about the world?

Today, for me, that book was The Paper Swan by Leylah Attar. By categories this is a contemporary romance written and published by an independent author. But it's also so much more. The story is gripping, equal parts breathtaking and frustrating, hideous and beautiful, and always utterly captivating. I started the book late in the evening, read much later that I should have, then read before, during, and after work, finishing in mere hours. Because I couldn't stop, I had to know what happened!

Come with me through the jump and I'll tell you why The Paper Swan is one of the best books I've read this year. Maybe ever. Spoiler free. Because it has to be spoiler free. 



The Paper Swan is a story that begins with a kidnapping, yet as it unfolds and twists & turns
are revealed it becomes so much more. Leylah Attar brilliantly chose to present her story from multiple points-of-view, a masterstroke because, just as in life, we see events unfold from one character's perspective, we get her thoughts, feelings, experiences, and understandings, and then we switch and learn what happened from another perspective, seeing the effects in a completely different light. I can't even express how much I loved this creative choice, because it's life. We never know what another person is going through, why they made their choices, what motivates them to do what they do. What a brilliant way to show that "truth" isn't always Truth.

How deluded we become then we start believing that everything in the world is about us. How hard we work to make things fit into our made-up theories. How blindly we follow our worked-up emotions, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Throughout the course of this amazing book we witness seminal events in Skye's life, learning about the people who are and were most important to her in the world. Then we witness the other side of those events, the things that no one told Skye. We learn that there are two sides to every story and that sometimes we need to work a little harder to gain understanding and insight into the experiences of others. It's difficult, but so important to understand that we don't know everything, that there's always more to the story, always details we don't know. Taking the time to learn the details can make all the difference.


In the grand scheme of things, we do the best we can, all of us, and we make up our stories as we go along; we write them and direct them and project them into the world. And sometimes we get other people's stories, and sometimes we don't, but always there is a story behind a story behind a story, linked in a chain that we can only see a small part of, because it's there when we're born and it continues after we're gone. And who can comprehend all of it in one lifetime?
Woven into this tale of pain and loss, revenge and rage, is an unbearably beautiful love story. It's so hard for me to write about this part of the book without giving anything away, but it is a tale of love that took my breath away. The depth and breadth of the feelings of not only our main couple, but also the love instilled in them by their parents awed me. Watching the saga unfold, seeing our couple's lives intersect and diverge then intersect and diverge again was an amazing and beautiful journey. When they were together nothing else mattered, not the past or the future, not revenge or hatred or fear or loss. All that mattered was the two of them together in that moment, and it was sublime. We all knew it couldn't last and that there would be fall-out. But what would happen after that? That was what kept me turning pages into the wee hours of the morning and ignoring work to find out.
If you close your eyes and think about someone you love, what comes back is not their hair color, eye color, or the things that go on their driver's license. Rather, it's the bits and pieces that seep through your consciousnesses, the things about them that you never realized you were storing away. 

I'm really not sure if I'm doing a good job of selling you on this book, because there are so many layers and events and realizations that I don't want to give away. This is a book that has to be read to really understand. You have to experience it for yourself. You'll probably guess most of the twists, I did, but the reasons why, the horrible and frustrating and heartbreaking and passionate and beautiful reasons why. You won't guess those, and they have to be read, be experienced for yourself. Go into this book blind. Let it sweep you away, let it show you how the lives of so many people can be intertwined and how small decisions that mean little to you can completely change the course of someone else's life and you may never even realize it.
When the world has always taken from you, when it's constantly tilted and shifted under your feet, it's hard to attach permanence to the things it gives.

Sometimes a book surprises you. You open it for the first time thinking that you know what's
going to happen, that you've read things like this before and it'll be another nice diversion, but you come out on the other side with an experience unlike any you've had before, and it's changed the way you see the world, if even in a small way. That's what The Paper Swan did for me. It's been a couple of days since I raced through it, and I'm still moved by the amazing love story, still a little teary whenever I think of the things our hero endured or of the time that our couple spent apart. I'm still awed by this beautiful, stunning book and I want to insist that everyone read it--drop everything and read it now! Experience this book, feel how I feel about it, and then insist every reader in your life read it, too. It's that good.


We are sand and rock and water and sky, anchors on ships and sails on the wind. We are a journey to a destination that shifts every time we dream or fall or leap or weep. We are stars with flaws that still sparkle and shine. We will always have more questions than answers, but there are moments like these, full of magic and contentment, when souls get a glimpse of the divine and quite simply, lose their breath.

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