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A Strangely Wrapped Gift Paperback – September 20, 2017
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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A Strangely Wrapped Gift is a collection of poems that, as the author has alluded to her forward, has been a perfect companion to me in a time of change and challenges. Although I'm not usually a fan of poetry, Byrnes has crafted a collection that is immediately accessible, relatable, and for me, is a perfect introduction to a contemporary style of prose.
If you have seen the author's daily works on Instagram (@emilybyrnes_), you will be in familiar territory here. Byrnes has an eclectic set of topics that she writes about, which include among others, mental health, feminism, self-healing, anecdotes from her past, and relationships. Totalling around 150 in the entire collection, each poem is very digestable, ranging from two lines at the shortest, to around 25 at the longest. In addition to the length, the language used is very approachable, yet provocative, and allows the emotional aspect of each piece to come through very clearly. Although the majority are understood clearly on the first read, there is a small collection that are re-framed by their titles (which are smartly placed after the stanzas), that cause you to immediately re-read, which ranked among my favorite individual poems in the collection.
In addition to the high-quality of the individual pieces, the main benefit of the book (in comparison to the Instagram works) is the curation and organization in a subtle, yet very powerful way. The poems are grouped into a year of seasons, from Summer to Spring, and although most topics can be consistently found throughout each season, there is a distinct feel to each, and an emotional arc as the seasons progress. My two favorite seasons of the collection, and the two most emotional in my opinion, are Winter and Spring; the former filled with the most despair, heartbreak, and self-doubt, and the latter contrasting it with growth, hope, and jubilation, that is rarely found prior to this season.
I have read the entire book twice as of this writing, once laying over between two flights, and once on a plane. In the middle of my first read, I felt pretty confident in suggesting that you take your time with this, because it is a fairly quick read (about an hour), and you should give the individual pieces room to breathe. However, by the time I reached the end of the book both times, I can't recommend enough that you take the hour and experience this is a complete emotional experience, and let the author take you on her journey. Though the final few poems are some of the best individual pieces in the entire book, because they constract so strongly with what came before them by triumphing over the struggles, I couldn't help from tearing up both times I reached the end. It is a truly beautiful moment, and fills with you hope and inspiration.
And although my emotional response was so strongly tied to Byrnes' journey, it was also because of the way she depicts her own struggles in such a relatable way that I can't help but feel she's speaking directly to me at times. Because the topics can be so wide ranging, I'd feel pretty confident in guessing that some poems won't connect with you on a deeper level than sympathizing with the author, but I can also guarantee you that there so many that will feel like they were writting just for you. Even as a prior non-fan of poetry, I would highly recommend this collection, even if you are not already familiar with her work on Instagram. I especially recommend it if you are someone who struggles with mental health issues, has or had relationsip issues, a young person looking for a voice, or even just someone who is looking for A Strangely Wrapped Gift to take with them on their own emotional journey.
Regarding the poems specifically, the poetry is about life, love, and loss. Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a significant theme throughout the book. For those with little to no experience, it truly humanizes the concept of "mental illness." Although the poems are from the author's point of view, they are relatable to others who have struggled with mental illness. Hope exists behind the words, a knowledge that even though mental illness is something to be lived with, it is also something that can be shared with others through poetry. Love, loss, hope, and life lessons are all major themes in this work. I could explain them in great detail, but I believe it is much better to read them for yourself, lest the visceral nature and personal meaning behind them be lost.
This book of poetry is transcendent, espousing themes each of us can relate to, regardless of our proximity to the topics. I believe in Emily's writing enough that her book is in consideration as required reading for my social psychology class this Spring.