The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Alessandra is the second daughter of a Duke (I think), which makes her practically invisible. Both in the eyes of her father, and the world. But she has a plan: now that her sister is engaged, she’s free to court and pursue her own future husband. She’s not going to settle for just anyone, though. Alessandra has her eyes set on the Shadow King. She will be the first woman to catch his eye, they’ll court and get married, and then she’ll kill him and take his kingdom. And she’ll never be invisible to anyone again.

A lot about setting this novel is done well. The complexity of court and social class and positioning is described really well, and the misogyny ingrained in the court system is also well characterized. The descriptions of the palace and people are detailed and woven into the story in a way that doesn’t detract from what’s happening. But also some problems with setting and timeline are distracting.

More specifically, when I was reading, there were times when I had to stop and ask if we’d resolved a thread yet (example: the Rhouben/Melitta side plot). And how did a semi-automatic rifle make its way into this book? We’re still wearing petticoats and the king fights with a sword, but I’m expected to believe the assassin has a semi-automatic? I recognize that this book does not take place in the real world, but if you’re going to set it in the equivalent of Victorian England, go all the way. That wasn’t the lone instance where I questioned the world-building, but this was one point that stuck with me to the end.

I like Kallias. I want everyone to react to “major revelations” like he did: like they don’t matter. It didn’t matter to Kallias that Alessandra had slept with other men because he’s slept with other women. He doesn’t care that Alessandra killed Hektor. He admits that it saved him the trouble of sending someone else to do it for her. She spends so much of the book trying to hide who she is and what’s she’s done, and she doesn’t need to.

In one of the early chapters, the king asks her outright what she wants, and that was a smart play by the author. It gave her the opportunity to explain why becoming queen was important to Alessandra, and it characterized how we can expect Kallias to react when the rest of her problems come to light. And the author followed through on those characterizations time and time again. A lot of authors make revelations like these a big problem, even making them centerpieces of relationship conflict for their characters, but I’ve never understood why. Kallias knows exactly who Alessandra is. None of this should matter.

Alessandra reminds me of Adelina in The Young Elites (I’m sure other characters in other books, too, but TYE is what’s coming to mind). They’re both out for power after they’ve been wronged. While I may not agree with their choices, they’re strong leaders who rule with an iron grip. It’s definitely and over-correct, but there’s something to be said for someone who wants their due justice and is willing to take it. But maybe that’s just the Slytherin in me. Regardless, the characterization of Alessandra is well done.

Which is to say nothing of the paranormal element of this book: Kallias, as The Shadow King, is himself, made of shadows. As the book goes on, you learn more about the history of the (literal) shadows in the royal family, and I’m not going to spoil that for you. But it does create this interesting dilemma for Kallias. He has this power that keeps him eternally young and alive, but loving Alessandra and keeping her near him means giving up that power. He has to decide if that’s worth it, or if a life without love is worth it.

I enjoyed The Shadows Between Us, by Tricia Levenseller: it’s soapy and dramatic, with the right amount of heat. Just the way I like my royal YA novels. Levenseller’s character work is masterful, showing us who they are and what they believe from the beginning, and allowing those traits to guide the character’s actions through the story. If you’re looking for a plot-based novel, you’re going to be bored: it’s all about Alessandra and her propensity for planning, scheming, and ruling. The Shadows Between Us is a testament to what character-driven novels should be about. It’s the strengthening of relationships, the development of characters as whole people, and the overcoming of a central misbelief that’s been keeping a character from happiness.

I was excited for this book to hit the shelves, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m definitely looking forward to reading Levenseller’s other YA offering: The Daughter of the Pirate King.

The Art of the Exam Debrief

Experiential Education is the act of teaching through experiences. Often, this looks like performing an activity and then talking about it. You can talk about what happened, why it matters, and how it changes things. If reading this has you thinking, isn’t that how all learning happens? you might be on to something. A lot of behavioral learning happens through a sort of informal experiential education, and we can use those principles to reflect on behaviors and skills to improve.

Typically, in school you learn a set of information. As a student, your job is to chunk, recall, and apply that information to a series of problems in the form of a quiz or an exam. Analogous to group-based action-reflection modeling, the experience in school is the test and I’m looking to learn from my performance about my study habits. What did I do? Did I study well/thoroughly enough? Did my methods of studying effectively help me learn the material? Should I do more chunking, retrieval practice, or application rehearsal on the next block? What should I change looking ahead?

Reflection like this helps me think about my process – an act called metacognition – and learn from it.

There are a couple of ways to go about this, but I like structure, so I start with a pre-defined list of questions. I like Dr. Richard M. Felder’s exam review questions, but many people and professionals have published their own set of reflection questions. My program even sends out a short survey after the exam with a brief subset of similar questions. Do an internet search and take your pick.

I choose this resource because we don’t have access to view our exams after the fact and this list focuses on the results rather than the subject matter. It consists of 12 yes/no questions to ask yourself – especially if you didn’t like the outcome. This list was originally published as a column in Chemical Engineering Education (1999).

  1. Did you make a serious effort to understand the text?
  2. Did you work with classmates on homework problems?
  3. Did you attempt to outline every homework problem solution before working with classmates?
  4. Did you participate actively in homework group discussions (contributing ideas, asking questions)?
  5. Did you consult with the instructor or teaching assistants when you were having trouble with something?
  6. Did you understand ALL of your homework problem solutions when they were handed in?
  7. Did you ask in class for explanations of homework problem solutions that weren’t clear to you?
  8. If you had a study guide, did you carefully go through it before the test and convince yourself that you could do everything on it?
  9. Did you attempt to outline lots of problem solutions quickly, without spending time on the calculations
  10. Did you go over the study guide and problems with classmates and quiz one another?
  11. If there was a review session before the test, did you attend it and ask questions about anything you weren’t sure about?
  12. Did you get a reasonable night’s sleep before the test?

If you answer no more than yes, you know where to make course corrections before the next test. I also expand a bit to include some more memory-based questions because that’s relevant to my coursework.

Here’s an example of my Exam 1 Debrief in my bullet journal. What methods do you like to use when you debrief learning experiences? Do you find that helpful in learning from and modifying your behavior? Let me know in the comments!

The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

The sequel to The Royal We is finally here, and I’ve been so excited to read it! It’s taken forever to get off the library waitlist, but my time has finally come.

In the immediate aftermath of the disastrous royal wedding, our heroes Bex and Nick have run away to Scotland, taking a secret whirlwind tour of the countryside, avoiding the royal family and their responsibilities. When tragedy calls them back to The Firm, they must confront the demons that sent them running in the first place.

“What was the point,” feels like my most common criticism these days, and I’ll apply it to The Heir Affair, too. To be fair, it’s also one that the writers were worried about. In a lot of interviews, the authors mention feeling hesitant to write a sequel because it’s hard to find a conflict in a second rom-com novel. A lot of the tension and stakes in the first book comes from the will-they or won’t-they of the couple getting together. It’d be A) redundant and B) a bummer if we were still stuck on that the second time around.

But that still leaves the question of what are the actual stakes here? Sometimes it’s their relationship with Freddie, sometimes it’s Clive, sometimes it’s a contest about who is the better Prince. It changes constantly, which makes it episodic.

That’s not to say that episodic isn’t entertaining. Because it’s about the royal family, it feels so soapy. Everything is inherently more dramatic because each decision weighs on the monarchy. Much like with the real royals, it’s hard to stop reading about them. Sometimes it’s a train wreck you can’t look away from, sometimes you have to marvel at the spectacle of it all, and sometimes you’re caught off guard by how normal they are outside of the public eye.

The best part about this book is not necessarily the characters, but how they all relate to each other. In the first book, we spent a lot of time developing these deep roots to people Bex cares about. Obviously deep ties to Nick, but also developing a relationship with Freddie, and the consequences of that are still playing out in this book. But Nick and Bex are also in the middle of a beautiful, heartwarming group of friends, and complex family relationships. The love Bex has for each person in her life really leaps off the page and makes the book worth the read. It’s impossible to read this book and feel lonely. And on top of the sort of found family that Nick and Bex have developed, the book is also hysterical. The quips are quick, and they never end. Whether they’re shooting back at Bea or Gaz, or Bex and Nick are discussing matters related to The Firm, the authors always manage to find a phrase to make you laugh.

The authors are right, it’s really challenging to find the stakes in a sequel when the main characters have already gotten together. It’s why all your favorite television shows suck after the romantic leads have gotten together: because you already know the answer. But Cocks & Morgan have found something else that pulls the reader in: love for each of the characters. More than anything, it made this book fun to read and hard to put down. Days later, I still find myself thinking about Nick, Bex and Freddie, the British Royal Trio. As always, I’m a sucker for a good princess book.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Coriolanus Snow was not always the President of Panem as we know him during the 74th annual Hunger Games. Once, he was a monster in high school, too.

When Coriolanus was a senior at the prestigious Academy of the Capitol, the Hunger Games were in their 10th year. The wounds of the Dark Days were still fresh, the citizens of the Capitol still angry, and the Games were a fitting punishment for the crime of rebellion. But, they lacked audience engagement. To try to correct that, senior students of the Academy are selected to serve as mentors for the tributes. And Coriolanus is selected to serve as the mentor for eccentric District 12 tribute, Lucy Gray Baird.

I like the book. As a stand-alone novel (and it can be read as a stand-alone novel if you’ve never read The Hunger Games), it’s okay. Collins is a great storyteller and builder of worlds. But as a fan of the series, I was asking why we’re here? What is the point of A Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes? Is Collins attempting to humanize President Snow or justify his actions? No, thanks. One of my best friends has a saying for when she learns something that contextualizes some horrific action by another: it’s an explanation, not an excuse.

The timing of this novel works against her attempt to turn President Snow into a complicated villain, in that I’m just tired of them. Yes, not everything in the world is black-and-white. But sometimes it’s that simple. Throwing 24 kids into an arena to kill each other is one of those black-and-white issues. The more I read the novel, the more it felt like my older family members telling me I’d get more conservative as I got older and experienced life.

On top of just… not liking Coriolanus on principle, he’s also annoying. He is so ungrateful for any help he received, and he thinks everyone had a personal vendetta against him. Any empathy he displays for the tributes is an act for the cameras so that he can come out ahead. Even his relationship with Lucy Gray feels self-serving. He spends the entire novel complaining about what he has to do to preserve his image. It makes him seem so whiny.

Having said all that, I don’t hate the book. Suzanne Collins writes war novels well. She does a great job building tension and creating a sense of meaningful dread. Every novel I’ve read by Collins touches on the horrors of war and how quick we are to forget them. The Hunger Games themselves were borne out of a need to not repeat the atrocities committed during the Rebellion. It’s an explicit theme presented in the book: how do the people in power exert enough control to prevent the system from falling into chaos again? Is it human nature to start wars? How can it be prevented? I don’t like the phrasing of the control question (and I don’t like the solution that the leaders of Panem decided on), but that doesn’t mean it’s not a question worth asking.

While I’m not excited by either primary character, the secondary characters are worth following for. The evil Dr. Gaul presents the villain I needed to root against and Sejanus fills the role of the rebel I was missing. Coriolanus spends much of the novel lamenting everyone else’s vendetta against him, but when we learn other characters’ motivations for their actions, it becomes clear that it’s the whining of a self-centered boy who the world does not actually revolve around.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, more than anything, leaves me wondering what the point of it all is. What we learn about a young President Snow isn’t monumental enough to shift views on the character, and nothing in the book is needed to explain something that happened in The Hunger Games. So what am I supposed to get out of it? It presents a nice expansion on the Panem and the Games we were familiarized with, so if that’s your main reason for reading, by all means. But if you’re expecting a meaningful analysis of how they got there, you’ll be disappointed.

Resource Mapping for Students

Resource mapping is a technique used by schools and community planners to define programs, people, and services that exist within a community. Most often, this is used in schools to help leaders assess if these resources are meeting the needs of the school, and find where to apply their efforts to improve.

I’m a big planner: I like strategy and I like knowing where we’re headed next. I keep my bullet journal full of my lists of tasks to complete and goals are broken down on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. At the beginning of the semester, I take the time to create an overview of what the class is going to look like and how I can be successful. For me, the first step is a variation of resource mapping. By identifying what me resources are and how they can help me, I know where to turn when I’m struggling.

To start resource mapping, first identify all the tools at your disposal. If you’ve got a textbook, that’s a resource. Your lecturer and teaching assistant is a resource. The internet can even be a tool, if used deliberately. List every resource you can think of for your class. Once you’ve got that list written down, identify the benefits to each of those resources. Specifically, how will using that tool help you succeed in your classes? By identifying the the uses of a resource, it’s easier to commit to using it.

As a guide, you can take a look at my resource map:

  1. Pre-class slides and the textbook. A slide deck for all the lectures in the block is posted before each class begins. To prepare for class, I peruse the lecture slides and upload them to my note-taking app. This, along with pre-reading the applicable chapter, gives me a broad understanding of the topics we’ll cover in class. Lecture helps me learn what to focus on when I return to the text for a deep read later in the day. If I read beforehand, I can better conceptualize what the professor is communicating during the lecture.
  2. The easiest step is going to class. Lecture presents information via an auditory method and a visual method. Even passive absorption of material from lectures is a solid step to learning the material, when appropriately coupled with lecture prep. With the onset of ZoomU, it’s easier than ever to prepare for class and go. After all, my commute is now down from 20 minutes to campus, to 20 seconds from my bed to my desk.
  3. The 30-second summary is a strategy for practicing recall, and a resource for later studying. After class, without looking at my notes, I take 30 seconds to write a summary of what was covered. This helps chunk together important topics from class and provides an opportunity to practice recalling topics from the lecture. It also gives a good metric of how well I’m focusing on the lecture: if I’m having trouble with the 30-second summary, I know I need to work on my sustained attention during class.
  4. Learning objectives. One of the challenges of my course is that a different professor teaches my class almost every day. It’s my job to integrate those different lecture styles and topics into a cohesive unit of usable information. To help with that, the block coordinator and the professors write a set of learning objectives for each lecture and chapter, outlining what we should learn and be able to do for the exam (and our comprehensive final at the end of next Spring). After reading the textbook and going to class, I try to answer these learning objectives from memory (to practice my active recall). Whatever I can’t answer, I review in-depth in the text and slides.
  5. Discussion and Recitation Section. Every student in my class is assigned to a small-group recitation section, led by the 2nd year teaching assistants. Before these recitation sections, an assignment is posted that asks us to critically think about the material from that week and answer questions. During recitation, we review those assignments. This assignment also helps clarify the focus of the week: if it’s a topic thoroughly discussed in the recitation section, it’s important enough to remember for the quiz and the exam. It also provides an opportunity to chunk related material and problem-solve through interleaving what we’ve been studying.
  6. Flashcards can be some of the most valuable tools in learning arsenal. Deep learning involves three steps: chunking, retrieval, and interleaving. While flashcards aren’t always the best tool for chunking, they’re great for practicing retrieval and for interleaving topics together. Typically, I’ll pull these from the learning objectives and write them as more specific questions exploring an objective from a different perspective.
  7. TA Reviews and Office Hours. The TAs for the MSMP are 2nd-year students who have already completed the Core Curriculum (what I’m working through right now). They’re meant to be a resource for us, and they prepare review sessions and set up office hours. The review sessions are quick presentations of high-yield material from the week. They provide another opportunity to see the material and can help guide studying for the week. Office hours, on the other hand, are a great opportunity to ask specific questions and receive clarification on confusing topics.

This is the list of resources I’ve cultivated for this semester. I can use these to get the most out of my classes. By identifying the tools I have in my box before I need them, and how they will help me be successful, I can better plan for how to use them. Another great thing about keeping this list: it’s flexible. I can add resources as I continue through the semester if I find another tool that’s useful. Planning and reflection are two of the most valuable skills for success, and this is one way that I choose to intentionally practice them. Tell me how you prep for your semester in the comments!

Breathe by Sarah Crossan

In browsing my library’s collection of teen books, I stumbled across Breathe by Sarah Crossan. I’d never heard of it, but love finding something new, so I checked it out.

In the pod, there’s air for everyone. Sure, you have to pay for it, but it’s better than suffocating outside the dome, where all the trees have died and there’s no air, right? The air in the dome is controlled by Breathe, the corporation that owns the Oxygen scrubbers. They keep the people of the pod oxygenated and alive, but they charge an oxygen tax. Quinn is a Premium, the son of important Breathe Leadership. He’s never had to worry about having enough air; he can afford it. But that’s all Bea, an auxiliary, has ever had to worry about. Bea and Quinn are best friends, and they’re planning a camping trip outside the dome until it gets hijacked by Alina, a strange girl from school who is hiding something.

I don’t understand how or why people are allowed outside the pod at all. There seems to be an entire tourism industry around exiting and re-entering the pod. Which begs the question: how could there not be defectors? Are there other pods for people to run to? If they’re trying to keep people under control and if they’re trying to stop the terrorists, why are they allowing people to leave the pod for any reason? They could make that ruling for innumerable reasons: the terrorists, the drifters, the lack of oxygen. They have options. It’s almost like they don’t actually want to stop people from coming and going. And what happens if you can’t pay the oxygen tax? We spend so much time worrying about not incurring it, but I don’t see a punishment anywhere. Do they actually throw people out of the dome for not paying their air bill?

On the note of belief, I don’t believe Alina’s grief. Her feelings for Abel and her grief for his death felt surface level. His death kept getting brought up with no emotional attachment to it. Abel was treated like a fact, not a person. It feels like Alina is too self-centered to fully realize her impact. Theoretically, she understands that other people in the world exist, but practically, she doesn’t seem to get how her actions affect everyone else. Even her guilt around Abel’s death is centered on herself.

I like the friends turn lovers trope, I really do. I’m an incurable romantic, so I don’t know if I can help it. But Quinn and Bea are not ideal as a pair. Not because of the class difference, but because Bea is right. Quinn doesn’t think of her that way. He actually never has. There’s a moment in the beginning when I think it’s possible, but the more we get to know Quinn, the more I realize he’s not actually interested. If we’re meant to believe in Quinn and Bea before that last moment, there needs to be some inkling or foreshadowing from Quinn’s side.

The idea behind this book is so interesting, but the execution left something to be desired. The book is timely, telling the story of what might happen when we’ve used all our available resources. This is a topic on all our minds, so it should work well for a young adult dystopian, but it falls flat. We needed more world-building and more character development to fully understand the stakes the characters are facing and to understand why we should care about them.

I’ll be checking out the sequel, Resist, when I finish with some other projects. In the meantime, keep your eye out for other upcoming reviews. Did you read Breathe and think I’m totally off the mark? Let me know in the comments!

Be On the Lookout…

I’m getting my Master of Science in Medical Physiology over the next few years. My goals in this program include A) completing the Core Curriculum with a 4.0, and B) completing an independent research thesis. My ultimate career goal is to earn my MD/PhD, and this program is intended to help me get there.

The Core Curriculum of my program (I’ve come to learn) is incredibly demanding. We cover a lot of material, in-depth and quickly. The classes are Medical Physiology, Translational Physiology, and a research seminar course. In Medical Physiology, we study how the human body functions. Right now, this involves a lot of cellular and molecular biology (topics I didn’t study thoroughly in undergrad). Translational Physiology is a mix of new research in the field and pathophysiology of whatever we’re studying in Medical Physiology. For example, last week we spent Med Phys talking about cell signaling and signal transduction. In Translational Physiology, we became familiar with what impact type 2 diabetes has on the insulin signaling cascade.

Like I said, we move through a lot of challenging material quickly, but we have quizzes weekly to track our progress. Those quizzes are scheduled for Monday morning. They open at 9:00, and our lecture begins at 10:00. Between the quiz and the lecture, I’m going to take the time to debrief and look back on the week.

Starting next week, I’ll be using this blog to post those debriefs, along with my study methods, notes, and drawings from class. For my seminar classes and Translational papers, I’ll try doing a journal club-style deconstruction of the paper I’m most interested in that week. Along the way, I’ll also give some insights into how the medical school application process is going and some insider tips & tricks I’m learning from my peer and faculty adviser in the program.

If you’ve got any questions for me, comment below or reach out via the Contact Me form! I’d love to hear from you.

Changes Coming…

Earlier this week, I started a graduate program in Physiology. I’m really excited about this opportunity to grow as a student and a scientist, and I’m looking forward to making the most of this experience.

When I was in undergrad, this blog fell by the wayside. I thought I didn’t have the time to read books for fun, let alone read them and write about my opinions on them. This time around, I don’t want to de-prioritize my blog, but that’s going to require some flexibility in what I think and write about.

For the next two years, instead of just blogging about books, I’ll be blogging about my experiences in grad school. I’ll talk about school finances, study habits, health & fitness, student cooking, current exciting research in my field, and the application process for medical school. Looking ahead, this will be a place to collect & review class material I should be familiar with and a place to talk about what’s happening.

I’ll still be reading and writing about books (in fact, my next review discussing Breathe, by Sarah Crossan, is still scheduled for next week. Be sure to check it out!), so if you’re still interested in what I have to say there, stay with me! But I also understand if this isn’t quite what you signed up for. Still, I hope to see you around! Thanks for being the best followers ever!

In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

Step through the magic tree to explore the Goblin Market with our determined protagonist, Lundy. In an Absent Dream is the fourth novel in the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire, but it’s a stand-alone novel, so it can be an easy jumping in point for new readers.

Young Katherine Lundy is eight years old when she stumbles on a mysterious door nestled in a tree that’s suddenly growing in the middle of her way home. When she passes through the door, she enters a world governed by logic and that enforces fair trade. Which is much better than the real world, where people don’t mean what they say and promises are broken.

The most important rule in the Goblin Market is that its inhabitants must always give fair value. Barters and trades in the Market are founded on the people’s inherent want to look after each other and make sure that fair value is paid, but if anyone tries to take advantage of the barter system… we’ll say the Market has its own way of correcting it.

The author’s writing style is vivid. It expresses the vivacity of the market and the seeming obscurity of its rules and their enforcement. When Lundy is little, the rules are abstract. Because she’s a tourist and a child, no consequences are for breaking the rules are enforced, and the rules are purposefully vague. Lundy wants to know why, and there’s no easy way to answer that. The omniscient narrator is a powerful tool that adds tension to the story. We know the story won’t end well for Lundy, but we don’t know in what way. And I really needed to know.

My favorite and my least favorite part of this book is that time passes the same in both worlds. I’d guess that’s Lundy’s least favorite part too. Throughout the story, Lundy learns that people don’t just pack up and leave for a reason. That learning hit close to home. She feels at home in the Goblin Market. It’s where her friends are and it’s where she’s learned who she is. In the world of the Market, she’s a hero. She can be like the girls she reads about in her books, going on adventures and experiencing all the magic the Market has to offer. But to do it, she’ll need to leave the human world behind forever.

Lundy has a found family in the Goblin Market. She loves these people because they have shown her kindness and care. They’ve watched her grow more than her own family has. But she still finds her ties to the human world keep pulling her back and keeping her there. Thematically, that’s powerful.

I didn’t like the ending. Or, I guess, I didn’t understand the ending. Ultimately, as a human, I understood why Lundy tried the path she did, but as a reader it felt insincere. It felt like a cop-out. Like we didn’t have to make a real decision.

As a side-note, the last pages were the only ones where it would have been nice to know that the story is happening within a wider context of stories. I had no idea that this was part of a series (that’s how stand-alone this novel is) until then, and I was exceptionally confused when the author name-dropped a main character from another one of the books. I don’t know how I missed it. There are reviews on the back of the book for other books in the series.

I really like this book. I got it as a recommendation from a friend of mine who’s a librarian, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s middle grade, so it’s a quick read. The writing style is phenomenally descriptive. If you’re looking for a new series, you can jump in with In An Absent Dream. If you’re looking for something short and quick to get you out of a slump, this might be the book for you. This book is a striking piece of portal fantasy and fun for any age.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

It almost feels wrong to write a review of this book, because it’s not just a book. When Breath Become Air is the story of a man’s life as it reaches it’s end.

Death is inevitable. We are slowly, constantly marching towards it. No cure exists. There are only stopgaps. This is something Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgery resident, knew all too well. Often, he was the stopgap. His work meant the difference between life and death for that patient in that moment. But near the end of his residency, he was diagnosed with severe, metastasized cancer. He likely wouldn’t survive.

Dr. Kalanithi didn’t come to medicine via the nerdy scientist route. He came to it from a wish to understand morality, responsibility, and what makes a human. Through English and literature and philosophy, he could understand the human condition. Through science, he could understand the underlying why.

A question that’s been on my mind is what are we first? How we identify changes what lens we see the world through. As we grow, we change and name ourselves differently. I’ve been a dancer, a gymnast, and athlete, a trainer, a writer, a student, and a young professional, among others. When I grew out of those identities, my worldview would change to fit the new identity. Paul, similarly, is a multifaceted and ever-changing human. Would Paul want to be remembered, first, as a surgeon? A writer? A father? A man? How does each presentation change who he is and who he is remembered as?

I will only ever know Kalanithi, the writer. Through that, I get a glimpse of who he was as a doctor and as a human, but I will never know his full person. I can ascertain that he was as dynamic in person as he was on paper. His writing is beautiful, full of meaning and emotion.

Every year, this book finds itself on several premed reading lists, and that’s how I stumbled upon it. I didn’t expect to be so affected by it. Some stories you can read secondarily. They don’t need all your attention; a small fraction will do.

This is not that book. Kalanithi’s writing is so enticing that it demands your singular focus. With that singular focus, of course, comes investment. From the beginning, he makes it clear how this story will end, but every step along the path is filled with unexpected joy and heartbreak. He may not have lived the length of life he deserved, but he lived a life filled with meaning and shaped with an understanding others hope to pursue.