I never do book reviews on my blog because I have a Goodreads account (except for my Favorite and Least Favorite Books of 2015 posts). However, I thought this one warranted a review. There’s been so much buzz about it – which I completely understood after reading it. (Be advised: I can’t recommend this without some disclaimers – which I mention below – but it is a very worthwhile read if you can get a censored copy or if language doesn’t bother you.) Onward.
It really says a lot about a book when you literally can’t let it out of your sight, no matter how long it takes you to read it. This weekend, I went to a relative’s house, a recital, participated in an orchestra concert, and had the usual school load. No matter where I went, this book went with me. (Yay for big purses!) I started it on Friday and would’ve finished it two days ago (Sunday) if sleep hadn’t gotten in the way. (Stupid sleep.)
I have so much to say about this book. The main thing is that I absolutely loved it.
Here’s the synopsis if you don’t know what it’s about:
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive – and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills – and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit – he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
I loved the simplicity of the story. So often, books I’ve read have complicated plots. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with intricate storylines. But how much time do you have when someone asks you, “So what’re you reading?” (Especially if they see the book in your purse two days in a row.) This story was simple: A guy gets left on Mars and has to figure out how to survive on basically nothing while trying to figure out how to get back home. And that’s it. The execution, however, is the beautifully complicated part. And a third of the way through, you get all of these different perspectives on what’s going on – including NASA’s struggle to get him safely home and the reaction of the crew who left him behind. Mark’s a botanist and a super-nerd, so there’s a lot of math involved. Let me repeat that: There is a LOT. OF. MATH. INVOLVED. My mind was spinning when he was explaining how he was going to make water. (Yes, I said “make.”)
This leads to the second thing I loved about it – the fact that it made me really think about how much I take for granted. Mark has to make water, guys. By burning chemicals together. How often do I dump out a water bottle that I’ve found in my car because it’s open and I don’t know who drank out of it? (Because heaven forbid I drink out of one of my siblings’ water bottles!) He has to survive almost solely on potatoes that he grows. And even after so. many. bad. things. happen (seriously, EVERYTHING THAT COULD GO WRONG WENT WRONG), he still keeps moving forward – with an optimistic, cheerful spirit! Half of the book had me either smiling or straight-up laughing because of something witty that he said. It was insane. I would’ve given up as soon as I discovered that my crew had left me. It also made me think about how often I give up easily, and how begrudgingly I do things sometimes.
I didn’t love the language (so many f-bombs and s-words; I would’ve given this a five-star rating if they weren’t there), but I loved every other thing about it – especially the emphasis on the value of life. In the story, the entire world rallied around NASA in order to bring Mark back home. One of my favorite quotes is towards the end of the book. Mark’s thinking about all that everyone has done to get him back home, and he realizes that it’s because of the following.
“Every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are a**holes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side. Pretty cool, eh?”
When I finished this book yesterday, I closed it and just started crying. (I won’t tell you if it’s from grief that he died or relief that he didn’t. Because spoilers.) All I could think was ‘Dang it, Mark Watney. You’ve taught me so much.’ So thank you, Mark and Andy. Thanks for making me think.
Four stars. Recommended: 18+
(Important Note: Sebastian Stan is in this movie.)