Book Review: Areh by Jeffrey Kinsey, Amelia Dregiewicz (Illustrator), Mia Bergeron (Illustrator)
ashley | When author Jeffrey Kinsey wrote to me to pitch his book Areh, I was immediately captivated by the stunning cover. The book promised more beautiful artwork and a story that sounded unique and creative. This was definitely a journey I wanted to take.
We start off with Remi narrating, reflecting on his present state of marriage and flashing back to when he and his friends were children. We got to know the characters, witness their upbringing, start to see the obstacles form as these children grew older and became a bit more self aware. Friendships started to change and grow and relationships started to blossom.
At times this part felt like it stayed in one place for a bit too long, the entire first half of the book was very focused on the everyday actions of these characters, but what I really liked about these flashbacks were the wise insights Remi was able to apply to his childhood situations. He was able to assess and reflect on his childhood actions and pinpoint the moments that he could have behaved better or reacted differently. These insights extended far beyond just the scene in the book, they were generalized and relateable tokens of wisdom that I think many people are not remotely close to realizing themselves. These passages are so clear when you read them, but you see it happen and happen again in real life and nothing really changes. These were real eye-opening moments for me, really thought provoking. I love when a book inspires questions and considerations in my own life.
I always find myself cheering for the underdog, the outcasts, and the characters in this book are deformed outcasts praised by adults, but ridiculed and mocked by their peers for being different. They’re all very interesting characters with interesting deformities and individual personalities. Sadly, though, I found our narrator Remi to be the least interesting and most infuriating, and that’s saying a lot compared to his best friend Sammy, who was basically belligerent and spoke with an offensive and poor take on teen slang that really didn’t sit well with me. Though some of this was necessary to see the growth that the book reflects on; I was just really irritated with the selfish way Remi dealt with his wife, with his blasé response to his missing friends, even in the second half of the book, he never really stepped up into his role or did anything very impressive other than complain and fantasize about his wife. I hardly see how any of his friends could stand him.
There were a lot of interesting themes here, including religion, self discovery, marriage, friendship, love, bullying, and depression. I liked how religion was kind of the foundation, using these deformed outcasts as mini-gods and ultimately leading them on a journey of self discovery. But it took a little while to get to that point and honestly, I found the second half of the book a little complex and confusing. It was interesting, with imaginative and unique obstacles that the friends faced and some self-awareness that they learned, but the ultimate goal wasn’t entirely clear for me, how everything came together seemed a little foggy.
That said, the plot is kind of secondary in this case, which is very rare and I don’t think I’ve ever put anything before a well thought out plot before. This book reads like poetry; Kinsey includes some really brilliant and moving phrases that really stuck with me. I don’t usually quote the copy in my reviews, but I can’t help it, this took my breath away: “The best poetry doesn’t have a thing to do with words.” There were vivid descriptions, brilliantly imaginative elements and just beautiful writing.
The artwork that is littered between the pages also took my breath away. It’s far more than just some pictures to accompany the text. The two go hand in hand, creating an overall visual that deeply resonates in a way that tricked me into believing this was more like a whimsical fairy-tale than anything else. Once we hit the middle of the story, things really started to take a turn to an all encompassing experience that extends far into the god/goddess realm that seemed to just sort of be mentioned in the first half of the book.
Overall, this is far more an experience than anything else. The prose, the poetry and the artwork work together to create something magical. Kinsey set out to create something, not just write a book, and he fully succeeded. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to witness it.
february 1, 2017
copy provided for honest review by