Tag Archives: Identity

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai (5 Star Review by Jason S. ’25)

No Longer HumanNo Longer Human by Osamu Dazai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

TW: suicide, substance abuse, misogyny

No Longer Human, Osamu Dazai’s last work, is a heavy semi-autobiographical novel told mostly through the abandoned memoirs of Oba Yozo, a man whose failure to understand and properly interact with a thoroughly westernized pre-WWII Japanese society forces him to live under the assumption that he is disqualified from humanity. The narrative is bookended by an observer whose findings reframe Yozo’s life through a set of more forgiving, though by no means rose-tinted, lenses.

I find Yozo to be an incredibly well-written character. This does not mean that I like him as a person; on the contrary he is melancholy, irresponsible, and thus extremely difficult to like. However, his mistakes are painfully human. This being said, Yozo’s narration is at times dominated by an unusual misogyny that uncomfortably extends beyond the already alienating context of his misanthropy. Even more concerning for a semi-autobiographical novel, quite a few women are written by Dazai to passively conform to Yozo’s views concerning a vulnerable, inscrutable woman.

This intolerance, though, is a human fault. Inexcusable, but quietly human. Passing judgements onto Yozo’s faults inevitably made me question my own. The text, though genuinely depressing, sits at an extremely accessible 177 pages. No Longer Human is a novel I will return to when my values will have unrecognizably shifted, and one that I recommend best with a highlighter, a good pen, and an open mind. —Review by Jason S. ’25

Jason’s book recommendations for those who enjoyed No Longer Human:

Notes from the Underground is a strikingly similar work; indeed, Dazai even explicitly communicates his Dostoevsky influences at one point in No Longer Human.

Siddhartha is a very interesting piece in comparison.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men explores many of the same issues in radically different contexts, particularly the story “The Depressed Person.”

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Normal People by Sally Rooney (Review by Varsha R. ’21)

Normal PeopleNormal People by Sally Rooney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

TW for Normal People: Sexual assault and suicide

The first thing I noticed when I started Sally Rooney’s Normal People was that she does not use quotation marks in dialogue. What was initially jarring became understandable to me over the course of the novel. At the heart of Rooney’s writing is an innate desire to fully immerse the reader into the narrative; in real life, we don’t talk or perceive language with quotation marks, and her aversion towards such conventional punctuation made me feel as though I myself was a side character in the book, watching the story unfold with an outside, yet involved, perspective.

Rooney’s sentences are short, blunt, and zany. At first glance, her words leave almost no room for interpretation, but she also manages to craft an intense, emotionally draining and, at times, frustrating love story that leaves an impact. It’s perhaps for this reason that people either seem to adore Rooney’s writing or despise it. It takes a while to get used to, especially after reading the more standard works of basically any other established author.

Normal People takes a classic, time-and-time-again-told story of misunderstanding amid romance while weaving key threads of social class, mental turmoil, and simultaneous self-discovery and self-depression. It’s impossible not to sympathize with the lead characters, Marianne and Connell, as they make their individual footprints in their legacies while constantly surrounded by the other’s memory and presence.

They start a clandestine relationship with one another in their senior year of high school with the cliche trope of a popular soccer player and a quiet, misunderstood ugly duckling. What separates Normal People from any other coming-of-age romantic comedy is an unmistakable backdrop of social inequality, emotional uncertainty, and poignant thoughts of philosophy and self-questioning, which are furthered by a strong use of the third person.

Rooney has an irksome talent to keep the magnetically attached Marianne and Connell in her books apart at the most inopportune moments, a trope that gets exasperating after the first couple times. But as she puts it, “All these year they’ve been like two little plants sharing the same plot of soil, growing around one another, contorting to make room, taking certain unlikely positions.”

And of course, a key hallmark of Rooney’s books is a disappointing ending that almost came off as a final “screw you” to the reader after having been swept up in Marianne and Connell’s intertwining tale for so long. But it was impossible for me to stay annoyed for long after having reflected on the profound impact that this book had on me, my perception of myself, and my understanding of how I’m perceived in the world around me. —Review by Varsha R. ’21

For those who enjoyed Normal People, Varsha also suggests Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney and The Outline Trilogy: Outline, Transit and Kudos by Rachel Cusk.

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Celebrating AAPI Literature (By Ms. Pelman)

Out of countless prodigious options, here are four books that I’ve read recently written by Asian American authors. They each represent just one facet (of infinite) perspectives. While these books take on wildly different subject matter, each one is fascinating, eye-opening, and riveting in its own right.


We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

This work of historical fiction follows a group of Japanese American teens who live in San Francisco during World War II. Their lives are thrown into tumult and their bonds are tested as some of them face the decision to fight in the war, and others are sent to an internment camp. If you like books told from multiple perspectives, you won’t be let down by this vivid and moving book.


Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

This offbeat National Book Award winner is written in a screenplay format. Willis Wu is a Chinese American actor who hopes to graduate from the bit parts of “generic Asian man” to the ultimate role for Asian men: Kung Fu Guy. Clever, funny, and fast-paced, this book skewers Hollywood in the most satisfying way.


Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Another historical fiction set in San Francisco, though this one follows Lily, a shy and obedient girl living in Chinatown in the 1950s. As Lily navigates a growing discomfort with her family, culture, and best friend, she discovers truths about herself and her sexuality that will change her life forever. A lovely tribute to self-discovery amidst painful realities.

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

This nonfiction book of essays contains brilliant commentary and criticism on race in the United States as the author explores and explains her Korean American identity. It is also beautifully written and complemented by memoir-like personal experiences. A memorable experience that makes you think and feel.

Have you read any great books by AAPI authors? Share them in the comments!

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (5 Star Review by Ananya B. ’23)

The Picture of Dorian GrayThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a philosophical novel featuring main characters Basil Hallward, Lord Henry Wotton, and of course, Dorian Gray. Basil Hallward is an artist who paints a portrait of Dorian Gray, and Lord Henry is a friend of his who has extremely questionable morals and ideals, unlike those that Dorian has been exposed to before. I loved this book, mostly because of the characters themselves.

First, we have Dorian Gray, who starts off the novel as a young, naive, child-like character, but he undergoes many changes and a great deal of character development throughout the novel, mainly under the influence of Lord Henry. I honestly cannot tell if I loved or hated Lord Henry, who brings up numerous witty and intelligent insights and ways of thinking. He corrupts Dorian with his deplorable deeds and persuasive words.

Next, there is Basil, who is the foil to Lord Henry, serving as the angel to his devil. The relationships between the characters, their interactions, and how they influence each other was engrossing, although I would have liked to have seen more of Basil and Dorian.

My one main criticism of the book is that Wilde sometimes goes on long tangents describing furniture, tapestries, and other such things. However, Wilde explores the themes of depravity, corruption, and hedonism in an enthralling and captivating way, forcing the mind to think about different philosophies and their effect on a person such as Dorian. —Review by Ananya B. ‘23

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This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger (Review by Alysa S. ’22)

This Tender LandThis Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book made me smile and frown and laugh at all the right times. I loved the protagonist Odie’s character development from the moment he undertook a journey of escape towards a better future to the day he returned home, and I also greatly enjoyed the incredibly strong theme of friendship present between the four main characters on the journey.

This Tender Land begins in the rural countryside of Minnesota, and I especially appreciate the author’s accurate historical representation of the Great Depression Era and its socioeconomic effects on the various demographics that we encounter throughout the journey. Although Odie is the main focus of the book, I enjoyed the visibly significant growth of each of the four characters. I think what made this book such a feel-good read was Odie’s relatability as a protagonist: he’s clearly unsure of himself and shoulders immense responsibilities at a young age, but his resilience and inherently caring nature cause me to gravitate towards his character and admire both his strengths and weaknesses.

Though This Tender Land seems occasionally juvenile in its storytelling (understandable from the young protagonist’s POV), for anyone who wants to experience an epic, cross-country adventure while learning a bit of 1930’s history through the eyes of a teenage vagabond stepping into the role of a young adult, this coming-of-age tale proves to be a satisfactory read. —Review by Alysa S. ’22

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Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (Review by Alena S. ’24)

Norwegian WoodNorwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Norwegian Wood is my comfort book, and not because reading it leaves me feeling warm or happy—but because I love its transparency. This book displays the ugly sides of human nature, yet it hints at tenderness due to how personal it is. Murakami expertly balances the dark themes of mental illness and suicide with humorous scenes, and the main character Toru makes me laugh quite a bit despite not being a funny character. Although the tale is set in the late 60s, it has a universal appeal that doesn’t feel dated, and ironically, despite the precise descriptions of nature and people, something about the story gives it an otherworldly feel.

Since technology was not as advanced nor widespread at the time, people were more in touch with nature, and Murakami’s description of scenery and rain was incredibly beautiful — one of my favorite aspects of the book. Even though this book was really unorthodox in its structure and plot compared to books I’ve read in the past, I rated it four stars because I feel like the protagonist helped me better understand a side of personal struggles and hardships that I hadn’t previously experienced myself. However, the book does go through a lot of poignant and deep discussion about the connection between life and death, and the open ending felt like a sudden and unrealistic rush that left no room for afterthought compared to the heavy plot. —Review by Alena S. ‘24

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Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin (Review by Ritu B. ’24)

Memoirs of a Teenage AmnesiacMemoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some books you stay up reading till 3 A.M. because you love them and don’t want to put them down. For others, you’ve spent half the book yelling at the protagonist for being dumb, and (for the sake of your sanity) you need to know what happens next. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac was the latter. Not that that’s a bad thing.

The book raises intriguing questions on identity: If you lost recollection of the last five years, how would you view your current lifestyle?

After falling down the stairs, Naomi loses all her memories from after the sixth grade. Enter an irresistible, rebellious boy who finds her. Throw in a jock boyfriend, parental divorce, a best friend loyal to the point of idiocy, and the ingredients seem very predictable (and perhaps slightly nauseating if you, like me, have consumed enormously more than the healthy amount of YA Fiction). Yet, we keep returning to this genre because we can’t get enough of the awkward, heartwarming teen romance—which you’ll find no dearth of here.

Ultimately, this book won’t change your life, but who even cares. Give it a shot if you want to drown your sorrows in some cliché YA! –Review by Ritu B. ’24

For those who enjoyed this book, Ritu has recommended Crazy Rich Asians for you to check out!

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The Birds, The Bees, and You and Me (review by Anya W. ’20)

The Birds, The Bees, and You and MeThe Birds, The Bees, and You and Me by Olivia Hinebaugh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

WARNING: Opinions presented herein may be skewed by the fact that I was reading this book at two in the morning.

While not the most memorable book I’ve ever read, Hinebaugh’s novel is founded upon a strong premise: when a school’s curriculum is misinforming students to a level of danger to their safety, what’s a girl with the know-how to do? Of course, then people come and just make things more complicated.

In a tale of secrets, friendship, and self discovery, Hinebaugh uses a compelling premise to clearly send her messages. While the romance seems at times an easily shed distraction from the drama, it is well written enough not to disappoint fans of romance. The drama is on point, the injustice enough to move hearts and the writing clear enough to read but complex enough to enjoy, even while sleep deprived. -Anya W. ’20

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Lovely, Dark, and Deep by Justina Chen (review by Anya W. ’20)

Lovely, Dark, and DeepLovely, Dark, and Deep by Justina Chen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Viola Li has a Plan. After the end of her first trip with her aunt, to Africa, she’s working on several more bake sales to raise money for the causes she’s written about. A few more of her scheduled vacations, and she’ll have just the right resume for acceptance as a journalism major to her dream school in Dubai.
Except, as it turns out, sometimes the malaria vaccine can give you extreme, permanent, photosensitivity. Thanks to her professional disaster manager parents, Viola’s entire life and all her plans for the future are permanently deconstructed within a week. All that’s left now is figuring out how to cope.

Chen’s novel is a good beach read, and typical YA. The romance, while not badly-written, is not particularly epic-it would have had the same impact as a friendship. However, her writing is excellent at evoking empathy within the reader, and breathes life into her main characters.
-Anya W. ’20

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The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (review by Anya W. ’20)

The Poet XThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What’s a girl to do when she’s got too much to say and no one to pour it out to? Fill journal after journal with words turned into verse, spilling her story across pages for no eyes but her own. A diary of free verse is an indulgence Xiomara can allow, one not banned by the strict rules of her cold home, but what about a poetry club? A boyfriend? A crisis of faith? Covering for her brother? As the walls close in, Xiomara has to grow up and decide what’s important, and how far she’s willing to go to keep it.

Acevedo’s freeform masterpiece is a touching and realistic portrayal of adolescence. She perfectly captures the mindset of someone on the verge of adulthood–the contrast between affection and suffocation day in and day out. -Anya W. ’20

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