The recent morally gray book exchange was an exercise in extreme self-indulgence. It gave me the opportunity to recommend a favorite book to a captive, semi-drunk brunch gathering. My weird obsession with color-coordinated photographs was also fulfilled because I made everyone wear gray. It was truly a grand morning.
Never Let Me Go is the book I brought and based this exchange around; it is firmly in my top five favorite books. Quiet, nuanced, and complicated like only real life can be, it is a realistic book set in a hopefully unrealistic future. Not a lot happens; there’s no action-packed sequences. Just like in real life the book is mostly internal thought and reflection. There’s lots of down time. A steady sinking feeling follows readers as they get closer to the end; as they near the looming, thing that awaits the main characters. I had been wanting to shove this book at someone, but was unclear on what theme to go with to ensure that result at a book exchange. While rehearsing the explanation of this book, something I do in the shower, on long drives, and on my way to the bathroom (not just for book exchange books either, for all books), I found myself explaining the turmoil I felt while reading the end. What was it about the conclusion that I wanted people to know?
It was the flip flop. My heart slowly ripped open over the course of this novel. While spending time with three beautiful and confusing main characters, I became obsessed with their plight; watching them fight for love and comfort up against some big bad. At the end, I heard from this big bad. The other side and its ideas were presented with care and logic. In a sickening and embarrassing moment, I thought, “That just may work, huh.. Could this idea be right?” There was a magnificent moment of pause and confusion. What the hell was I saying?!? I just spend 200 pages thinking one thing and now I’m ready to throw that all away? It was like reading Gone Girl, anytime I’d agree with Amy, I’d think, “WHO AM I RIGHT NOW?”
That is all the plot and reasoning I can really give. This book is so difficult to talk about without spoiling the thing. The one thing the whole story hinges on is so critical to the ‘bad idea’ and what the characters go through. I need to tell you, but I can’t. The first time I read this book, I had a moment of absolute panic when my eyes glossed over the reveal. I don’t want to take that feeling away from anyone. It is that powerful. The idea that this reveal could hit me, I would follow these people, and be on their side for so long, only to flip opinions (even for a second) made me see how morally ambiguous this book and the ideas within it were. The big question/ the big bad / the spoiler: Did all the positives that came from this outweigh the all negatives it caused? That’s a moral question, yes? How far is too far? What is the lesser of two evils and is there ever a really a clear one?
Once my book was set, I went to work on the goody bags! I am so lucky to have talented people in my life who want to contribute to my book things with the avenue they create best in. We had watercolor bookmarks from my favorite painter, crocheted hearts from my YouTube sensation of a friend, calligraphy from my unfairly-talented, far-away friend, and of course candles and lovely soft light from my true love and best friend, creative genius that she is. The bags were the best yet.
Since I usually don’t detail the books exchanged, I figured it was time for a full list of what was brought. Please enjoy the book blurbs below (either in the words of the exchanger or the Litsy synopsis) and let me know in the comments what books you love that had morally ambiguous plots or characters!
Deathnote — “When I was searching for ideas for morally grey books, I came across the Death Note manga on a morally grey book list. I’ve seen the anime (and loved it), so I knew it would be a great fit! The main character is Light Yagami and he comes across a death note that was dropped by a bored Shinigami (death god). Light realizes he can kill anyone just by writing their name in the death note. At first, he is frightened by this ability, but soon decides he will use it to rid the world of the most violent and dangerous criminals. In the series, you can see him become almost power hungry in trying to create this new world order, but he is still able to attract many supporters. Supporters who see criminals that were previously able to slip through the justice system now being punished for their crimes. But the question remains – is it okay for any one person to “play God”?”
What I Saw and How I Lied — “What I Saw and How I Lied – If you’re looking for a quick read filled with twists and turns, romance, and a shattering family secret you need to consider reading this book. It is told from the perspective of Evie, a young 15-year-old girl struggling with her own self-imposed urgency to mature, so she may finally feel the acceptance of others – something I believe all women can relate to when thinking back on their childhood, the yearning to grow up quickly. Specifically, I enjoyed this book because we see Evie slowly unravel a complicated web of lies where once the truth is revealed she has to make the crucial decision of who’s side she’s on. Through this decision we actually see Evie transform into the adult she is so desperately trying to become. This book demonstrates the incredible will power of humans to do what is necessary in order to protect your family even if deception is the means.”
The Walking Dead — “Walking Dead Comic Book Series – When someone talks about a morally grey story, I always think of zombie movies and tv shows. It fascinates me from the transition between normal society and how it shifts to a “wild west” so quickly. You are not only killing the dead, but you are killing your own people, stealing from others just to survive. You not only have to protect yourself from zombies, but from each other. Not everyone has the best intensions and when thrown in an apocalypse situation, it really shows your friends and family’s true colors or even yourself and what you are willing to do.”
Little Fires Everywhere — (Litsy) In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned–from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principal is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren- an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides.
The Good Girl — (Litsy) “I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.” One night, Mia Dennett enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn’t show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. At first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life. When Colin decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota instead of delivering her to his employers, Mia’s mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them. But no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family’s world to shatter.
The Punisher — (Wiki) The character is an Italian-American vigilante who employs murder, kidnapping, extortion, coercion, threats of violence, and torture in his campaign against crime. Driven by the deaths of his wife and two children who were killed by the mob for witnessing a killing in New York City’s Central Park, the Punisher wages a one-man war on crime while employing the use of various weapons and firearms. His family’s killers were the first to be slain.
This Savage Song — (Litsy) There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a cityoverrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from acclaimed author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters.
The Dinner — (Litsy) A darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives — all over the course of one meal.It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.