Book Review: What Things Mean by Sophia N. Lee

What Things Mean
by Sophia N. Lee
Published May 2016
Published by Scholastic
Purchase at National Book Store


What does it mean to be different? 14-year-old Olive is struggling to find out. Everything about her is so different from the rest of her family. She is big-haired, brown skinned, and clumsy in a family of cream-colored beauties who are all popular and Good At Sports. She closely resembles a father she has never known, and about whom her mother never speaks, and no one wants to tell her why. She turns to books and other things in her quest to find answers, and as a way to cope with her loneliness. When she learns the truth about her father, she must decide whether or not she will let the differences in her life define her forever.

A unique coming-of-age story unfolding through dictionary-style chapters, What Things Mean takes a closer look at the things that define a life, and the many ways in which we find meaning.

*Grand Prize Winner, Scholastic Asian Book Award 2014


While I thoroughly loved What Things Mean, it’s really difficult for me to describe how I feel about it. I lent this to a friend and forced her to read it just so we could discuss it together and maybe get ideas from her on how I could review this, but like me she couldn’t form coherent English sentences to express her feelings about it aside from “different” and “good” and “somewhat like Perks of Being a Wallflower” which, to be honest, in my opinion, are all understatements. I was thinking “awesome” which could also work as a full review for this book provided that the word “awesome” be capitalized in bold letters and with three exclamation points because it’s that. What Things Mean is awesome. But it’s more than just awesome. What Things Mean, for all its worth, goes beyond awesome! Also, this is written by a Filipino author and the book is set in the Philippines so there are lots of reference to the Filipino culture. 

First off, how adorable is this book? Every chapter begins with a dictionary entry featuring random words that aren't really random because each word gives deeper meaning to every chapter. It never ceased to impress me how simple words with simple dictionary definition could be so intricate and could define the whole universe. I get excited every time I start a new chapter because I know that the connection between the featured word and the chapter would be surprising and like I said, it never ceased to impress me. And as for our protagonist, Olive, she's a lonely character who doesn't fit into her family and you'll literally feel that about her. I wanted to pluck her out of the book and give her a big hug and a pat to the head. It's just amazing how the author could capture those emotions perfectly and turn them into words that effectively gets to the reader. 

What Things Mean is told in a non-chronological order of events in Olive's life. You'd think it's random and inadequate but by the end of the book, you'd feel as if you've known Olive your entire life. And did I mention that this only has 133 pages? But my god, it has EVERYTHING! That's another thing that this book got me so amazed. What Things Mean managed to be so intricate, poignant, beautiful, and powerful in just 133 pages with no loose ends nor rushed scenes. It's basically perfect! 

Bonus! Quotes from the book because Sophia Lee's writing is simply breathtaking!

"I think that's the thing that most people miss about magic - how it relies on one's ability to make people believe."
"I am reminded of something Mama always tells me - how these are people's dream homes, the fruit of years of hard work and sacrifice. I try to be mindful of that when I go on my walks, to remember how nice it is that different dreams can stand together, side by side."
"Here is what I wanted to say, but didn't: I was always going to be somewhere, stepping over some line. We all were - even if we didn't want to admit it. There was only forward or backward, and an infinite line of changes either way."
"Light always remains. The world turns, and days pass, and the sun warms the places that need it. Maybe that is how it is with everything else. Things go where they are needed, and when they do, we simply learn how to live without them."

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from Scholastic PH and Sophia N. Lee for free in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5 stars!

About the Author

Sophia N. Lee wanted to be many things growing up: doctor, teacher, ballerina, ninja, crime-fighting international spy, wizard, time traveler, journalist, and lawyer. She likes to think she can be all these things through writing. She loves words and the meanings behind them. Her favorite word is 'chance'. What Things Mean is her first book. She lives in Manila, Philippines.


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