Monday, July 31, 2017

Foxy Critique - Storm of Hope by Leila Tualla

Hello everyone, and welcome to another segment of Foxy Critique. This week’s review focuses on Storm of Hope by Leila Tualla. This critique will be a little different. As a non-fiction book/poetry collection, the typical categories that I use for ranking will be different than those I do for fiction stories. As usual, each category will be followed by a description of what I look for in the category, my notes on the book, and its score. Twaddle clause: Anything I say can and probably is, pure and utter twaddle. My opinions on the book bear no reflection on my personal opinions of the author and are strictly about the contents within. You can find a link to the book’s page at the bottom. If you purchase the book, please be sure to support the author by leaving a review.

Alright, with technicalities out of the way, I can begin. Storm of Hope (subtitled God, Depression, Preeclampsia, and Me) is a short read that blends the poems and memoir of Leila’s struggles with her faith and the aforementioned conditions.

Now, as a man, I clearly am no expert on preeclampsia. I had to do a bit of research into the condition to understand the ramifications and symptoms of the disorder. As such, I can’t ever really claim to understand what it was like for the author to go through such, but I can empathize greatly with depression and faith.

I’m starting with a little personal information about myself, just so you, the readers, can understand where I’m coming from in regards to potential bias. I’m what is called a “transcendentalist”. For those of you who haven’t studied literature and are looking at the screen in confusion, I’ll explain.

A transcendentalist is a Christian...sort of. You’ll never see a Transcendentalist church, because we don’t really believe in churches. Typically, sundays are reserved for personal meditation, prayer, and just general relaxation. Transcendentalists believe in what’s called the “over-soul”, which in a nutshell is the divine light that shines in all living things. God isn’t a singular entity to most transcendentalists but is an all-encompassing thing (I don’t really know a good word to describe it) that connects everyone and everything. No, I’m not a vegetarian. As easy as it is to think so, recall that vegetables are living things too, so it’s really just more of an acceptance that everyone has to eat. But I’m getting sidetracked. Point is, transcendentalists believe that God’s love has no limits, in the sense that there aren’t any conditions to get into heaven. His love for us is like the love our parents should have for us. It doesn’t matter how badly we screw up, because at the end of the day, God’s love transcends whatever problems we face, so long as we recognize them as problems. This includes even going so far as to follow another religion.

As a personal note, I’ve always subscribed to the Hindu philosophy of the “one mountain”. There are many paths up the one mountain, but the one we take is our own and we all reach the same place in the end. I believe that everyone believes what they need to to get through their life. Right or wrong objectively isn’t important, so long as you are doing what you think is right and feel remorse when you do wrong.

Getting away from religion a bit, I’ve suffered with depression many times in my life. I was born with a rare heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, where an extra electrical impulse (or in my case 16 extra electrical impulses) are in your heart that intercept signals from the top chamber to the bottom, resulting in an overly rapid heartbeat. When I was 9 years old, I had these muscles removed, but my heart has always beat a little faster than normal since anyway. I’ve also had kidney stones on a near monthly basis since I was 12, and while a diet was the issue, it had nothing to do with salt or soda (surprisingly). I've also had clinical depression, ADHD, and Asperger's for almost my entire life, and I take medication for all three. Basically, I’m not stranger to hospital stays, doctors, or therapists, and while I can’t say I know precisely what the author went through, I’m giving this background as an explanation of where my opinions are coming from.

Category 1 - Technical Skill (Literary Value)
Like Literary Value, Technical Skill is based on the author’s use of mechanics as well as the emotional impact it leaves behind. Good Technical Skill is a result of strong word usage, poetic skill, and the ability to use syntax. Does the book have many errors? Is all the poetry free form, and if so, is it still impactful? Does the author convey the proper emotions?

Storm of Hope does an excellent job of speaking for itself. Even those who don’t know anything about preeclampsia (as I didn’t before reading the book) will still be able to get a glimpse into the ramifications within it. While I personally didn’t find the poetry to be anything stunning or spectacular compared to other poetry I’ve read, the memoir segments in between shined brightly enough to simply override any penalty that the poems could give.

While this segment is a little short in regards to critique, it still is enough to give me a certainty in the ranking that I give.

In regards to Technical Skill, I give this book a 4/5.

Category 2 - Coherence (Plot)
As I told Leila before presenting her with this critique (which I do for all authors I critique), it’s hardly fair to judge someone’s real life on the basis of “plot”. It’s not really something they can help, and to adjust their life story in a memoir for the sake of making it ‘entertaining’ would be a shallow request within itself. Instead, the book is judged based on Coherence. That is, does the book’s events depicted follow an accurate timeline? Can I see the feelings and segments clearly without having to do extra research or jump through hoops? Simply put, does the book make sense?

Now this category isn’t a difficult one to hit, and as someone who doesn’t often read non-fiction/memoirs, I’m hardly the expert on measuring coherence. Even still, I didn’t ever really feel lost when reading Leila’s book except for one segment, which occurs at the beginning between segment 5 (which discusses her post-partum depression and her preeclampsia fears post her second child’s birth) and segment 8 (which jumps back to while she is still pregnant with her second child). Despite that tiny bump in the “story-line” so to speak, I had no issues following the story.

The emotions of the poems between the sections felt natural and fit well with the transitions between the memoir segments. We’re given a good glimpse at the process of her losing and regaining her faith, the anticipation up to her second pregnancy and how it compared to her first, the depression that struck during and after, and her relative recovery over the problems (as anyone with any serious condition will tell you that you never can truly recover).

In terms of Coherence, I give this book a 4/5.

Category 3 - Accuracy
This category is pretty self-explanatory. Is it obvious from the memoir that the person is being truthful or are they fictionalizing too many elements? Have they done their due diligence and their footwork to make sure any and all information they provided is correct? How much is dramatized or hammed up for the reader?

Leila did a fantastic job in Storm of Hope. While I did have to do a little research after in regards to Preeclampsia specifically, she cited sources for any technical information she did provide. The story from her perspective didn’t feel false or dramatic in anyway. Some of the events had me scratching my head like her story about the cop knocking on the window (it made me wonder how long she must have been waiting there for him to have shown up), but it wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility.

In fact, that was what helped to increase the impact of Leila’s Technical Skill score. Everything described was very no-nonsense, but didn’t carry over so far as to sound like someone reading a crime report. It was a story of the most revered sort: a recollection of events, complete with personal bias, observations, and interpretations. Accuracy in regards to real life, as far as I’m concerned, take a backseat to accuracy in regards to personal feelings and observations. If getting your cart bumped into by a jerk at the grocery store is the final straw that breaks the camel’s back of your already bad day, I’d rather the author let out all of the rage they felt over what would otherwise be a minor slight when retelling it, while also being able to admit “okay, so it wasn’t that bad, but at the time it was damned awful.”

The author does this almost flawlessly.

In terms of Accuracy, I give this book a 5/5.

Category 4 - Language/Entertainment
Now, while the Coherence segment does go over language in terms of readability and comprehension, this segment is meant solely to from a spot of enjoyment. Does the author build a good emotional tone? Did my feelings reflect the ones the author try to instill? Would I be able to empathize with the author or blow off their emotions as if they weren’t important?
This may seem like it comes from my personal side more than the author’s writing, but honestly, screw you guys. This is my critique, I’ll do what I want. Kidding, of course.

Having met Leila in real life (though I can’t say I know her intimately), what I’ve witnessed of her is very recognizable in her writing. She’s always been cheerful and upbeat when I’ve spoken to her, but the level of sass that she puts into her writing is perfectly placed.

It’s summed up perfectly by the first sentence in chapter (section?) five of the book. “Preeclampsia can suck it.” Almost immediately, I nodded my head and went, “Yep, that sounds exactly like something Leila would say.” Which is what made the parts about depression even more hard-hitting.

It was hard for me to picture the quiet, but otherwise kind and cheerful author going through such struggles, but it was still believable. It’s a short book, not even 100 pages long, but I still found myself tearing up a few times. I didn’t struggle to get through it at all, and even in books I enjoy I sometimes have to put it down for a break or two. This one, however, I read all in one sitting.

In terms of Language/Entertainment, I give this book a 5/5.

All in all, I give this book a Diamond rating of 4.5/5.

Seriously, read this book. I’m not going to go out on a limb and say something like “it changed my life forever”, because believe me that book will be one that I won’t be able to critique. In terms of non-fiction books I’ve read, this one is fantastic. It’s entertaining, it’s personal, it’s quick, and most importantly, it’s chock full of connectivity that will give you a great window into the author’s life.

Now, like I said, I’ve never been diagnosed with preeclampsia. As a man, I never will be. Even still, for those women who have gone through similar ordeals that the author has, this book will definitely help to make you realize that you’re not alone in your struggles. I recommend this book to anyone, but especially to mothers and those who struggle with preeclampsia or postpartum depression.

If you'd like to purchase this book, you can find it on Amazon here.
Please be sure to leave a review on the author's page. Your support is greatly appreciated!

With that out of the way, I'd like to take a moment to talk about something very serious.
Depression is something that affects many people in the world, and it's something that can be extremely harmful, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. A friend of mine once told me that depression is like a parasite. It doesn't want to be found, and as such, it drives those it affects to isolate themselves from the rest of the world.

Please, if you are struggling with depression, or if you know someone who is struggling with depression, the best thing you can do is to talk about it. Even if you don't want to visit a therapist, speak about it to your friends, your family, your pastor, whoever will listen. Every life is valuable, and there will always be someone who misses you. Never leave those people behind, no matter how hard depression hits you.

If you can't find anyone to talk to, or if you aren't comfortable talking about it with people you know, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. They're available 24/hours a day, any day, all day. The number is toll-free, so it doesn't cost any money and they will help you with any questions or problems you have. Suicide is never the answer. 

I may just be a humble book critic, but know that I care about and love each and every one of you. Keep yourself safe, and remember that you're never as alone as you feel. 

Thank you,

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