TRIGGER WARNINGS: Suicide, depression, PTSD, sexual assault, sexual abuse, anxiety.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Special thanks to Charlie Avinash Nicholas for the opportunity.
**Yes, I’ve intended to keep this review spoiler free, with just really minor spoilers that may not even count as spoilers.**
**All GIFS are from GIPHY**
Simply put, this book was a masterpiece. It was stunning. It was confusing, heartbreaking, heartaching, hopeful, hot and cold. Thought provoking. Very quotable with deep lessons expressed in poetic manners. It was beautiful. It was utterly human.
Overall, I give this book 4/5 stars.
Cycles of the Phoenix is comprised of three “Books”: Sanity’s War, Strange and Kaya: Where Have You Gone? Within each Book, there are multiple perspectives and stories. The entire book as a whole has parts of many stories that are interconnected and relate to one part or another. Even if some of the stories aren’t directly connected, every part of the book is connected through the central themes of mental health and humanity.
Unlike other fiction books I have reviewed, I can’t quite string together a simple summary of this book. It is stunningly complex and I fear that I might unintentionally reveal some spoilers, which I want to avoid. So I’ll try to give a general gist of what this book really is about.
This book is a metaphorical narrative of multiple perspectives beautifully strung together. It is brilliant. This is the first time I’m reading a book of a structure like the one in this one.
The point of view is third person plural. The reader is transported from one story to the next, and within each story the reader receives achingly beautiful and heartbreaking details about the experiences and emotions of the characters. There are feelings of betrayal, heartbreak, sadness, anger, despair, regret, hope and love. There are concepts of winning and losing, only to win again and for victory to be the end result no matter how many failures have been in the past. In addition, the stories are adorned with pleasing imagery.
The naked night sky slowly became clothed with stars as karen sanG her gentle tune again. eventually a sliver of the moon materialized and within a few minutes, it became whole.”C.A. Nicholas, Cycles of the Phoenix
The author, Charlie Avinash Nicholas, depicts the character’s inner turmoils and inner struggles with mental health. Not limited to one specific category of mental illness and personal challenges, types of struggles I’ve picked up on include depression, suicide, sexual assault, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, low self-worth and personal insecurities.
Nicholas did an eloquent job of portraying personal inner battles through the personalization of specific feelings and inner struggles. For instance, he portrayed a physical fight between Hope and Agony to symbolize the warring of the two concepts within a person.
I notice his fear as he sees me rise from the ground. i see his terror as i play those happy memories of you and i. even thinking about your love is an act powerful enough to burn my oppressor’s ego.”C.A. Nicholas, Cycles of the Phoenix
Nicholas brilliantly explored the feelings of worthlessness that people have which birth their worries of being a burden on those that they care about. And he brilliantly tackles this common and sad self-concept through painting the ways in which love from loved ones in which they care for someone is no burden on loved ones at all. Rather, Nicholas communicates that helping someone is a privilege that comes with friendship– relationships are a gift. And by allowing someone to help you, by reaching out to them, you’re making a bond of light that can only be produced by empathy and love. You’re not simply pulling someone into your own darkness and drowning them within it as you might fear. Rather, while the other person empathizes with your pain, they are given comfort at the pleasure of the human bond and connection that they form with you and such a brings you closer to them, and them to you. You’re not a burden– love goes beyond a burden. Allowing someone to help you is indulging in and building love that is mutual. Of course emotional labor is required, but that emotional require is desired and welcome.
Lean on each other, hold each other crying, laughing, and sharing your love with one antoher as you journey towards freedom together. nightmares are vulnerable and love is eternal. you are not alone.”C.A. Nicholas, Cycles of the Phoenix
Do not be afraid of being sad around others, you are not and you will never be a burden. when you’re sad, it just gives your loved ones a desire to help you since they love you so much…know how much you mean to others and know that their lives are made better because of you…life would be so much worse without you.”C.A. Nicholas, Cycles of the Phoenix
Being able to feel others’ pain is not a bad thing– it’s a beautiful thing that gives relationships and life meaning. And he points out that if one drives themselves to leave another’s life through suicide through the intention of sparing their loved ones pain, the suicide is a much greater pain than any emotional pain that may have came from sharing one’s pain with a loved one. In other words, Nicholas explains that killing oneself will not lift a burden from one’s loved ones– rather, it will create a burden of much greater weight than had prior existed. Eliminating oneself to save others will have the opposite effect, as one’s presence and existence is a gift and a blessing that brings joy and life to their loved ones.
Don’t fear the pain that comes to you for pain is not a stranger to others. you feel empathy for your loved ones and they feel the same way about you. yes, empathy can be quite painful but empathy without pain is a farce and without empathy, love cannot be selfless.”C.A. Nicholas, Cycles of the Phoenix
do not be afraid of this word:
help. many times this is the hardest word to utter to another. oftentimes this word is kept in the shadows since the afflicted sincerely wish not to be a burden. but the truth is that the loved ones of the downtrodden do not view them as an unBearable weight but as a beautiful soul who they desperately want to rescue, once they knew of the pain that crushed him or her. so if you are under duress, utter that word, and be not ashamed of it: help.”C.A. Nicholas, Cycles of the Phoenix
Nicholas portrays a loud and clear message to never give up on yourself, on your life, on living. Because no matter how worthless your life may feel, no matter how worthless you may feel of yourself, there is no escaping the importance of yourself that others see. That worth that those who love you give you despite whatever bad feelings you may have about yourself is infinite and unbreakable. A lesson he teaches is to value yourself through the eyes of those who love you when you can’t bring yourself to love yourself on your own.
Despite what you may feel right now, the constant truth is that you are a beautiful soul. know that this world is made so much better because you exist. don’t forget that you are loved and that love goes beyond a feeling. so whenever you struggle with self-worth, look THROUGH the eyes of those who love you to recognize that you are amazing.”C.A. Nicholas, Cycles of the Phoenix
eVER TERRIFIED OF ITS OWN VULNERABILITY AND OF OTHERS’ LOVE, DOUBT WAGS WAR FOR ITS OWN UNRIGHTFUL TRIUMPH. DOUBT DESPERATELY AND VICIOUSLY ATTACKS BECAUSE IT IS TERRIFIED OF A TRUTH THAT IS BENEFICIAL ONLY TO VICTIMS. HOPE PLEADS PATIENTLY FOR US TO ALWAYS CLING IN ITS EMBRACE, DESPITE THE SEVERITY OF MELANCHOLY’S ABUSE. INTENSE STRUGGLES MAY E PERSISTENT BUT PAIN UNDERESTIMATES THE POWER OF OTHERS’ LOVE FOR EACH OTHER.”C. A. Nicholas, Cycles of the Phoenix
‘Ray, pain is a hallmark of true love. the basis of real friendship is not the happiness one can bring to another. the foundation of authentic FRIENDSHIP is love for each other, no matter how intense or frequent the pain a friend might be experiencing.'”C.A. Nicholas, Cycles of the Phoenix
Nicholas echoed two concepts that I incorporate into my life and live by. One of those concepts is separating what I feel from what I know. For instance, I may have self-doubts that claim I’m not capable of completing a task or that tell me that I’m not attractive, but I know that I am indeed competent and that I am indeed beautiful. I repeat what I know to catch my feelings up with it. I know that even though I may not find myself beautiful at times when I am feeling down, the world might. The second concept is that true, genuine relationships exist when people within the relationships are dependable and there for each other beyond when it is simply convenient for them. Nicholas’s characters showed that dependability within friendships.
While the imagery Nicholas has provided is beautiful as I have described, I would have liked to see more imagery within the stories. I feel like the beauty of the stories would have been complemented with additional descriptions of the visuals of the environment around the characters. I also wish that the characters and their facial expressions and physical traits were described with more detail. I also wish I could have gotten to know the characters on a deeper level. I got more acquainted with some characters than others; however, given that this book is a collection of stories of different characters, perhaps Nicholas’s goal wasn’t to give us much of a deep of a connection with every character that was based on relatability on traits and hobbies and interests. Perhaps his intention was to connect the reader to the characters just on the basis and capacity of our shared humanity, which is a beautiful thing. It’s possible that Nicholas purposely excluded certain character details for this purpose of focusing on a common humanity with the sharing of feelings and empathy with other minor differences being at bay.
I also felt like some of the lessons and sayings were repetitive. It would have been nice if there was more of a coherence binding all of the stories together in a single lesson or in interconnected lessons rather than having teachings being brought up in each story. Maybe if there was a section toward the end of the entire book connecting the concepts together instead of after the end of each of the stories, it would come together differently. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the author is wrong in the current structure of his book; such an ordering and repetition could also be a technique for him to emphasize and reiterate his messages.
Regarding the aspect of suicide, I liked that the author addressed suicide driven by lack of self-worth. Such a problem is very sad and needs addressing; however, I wish he expanded into more dimensions of suicidal motivations. It would be nice if he had addressed suicide driven by lack of passion and motivation for life. While lack of self-worth is a common problem that causes people to want to end their life, sometimes people don’t want to live for other reasons such as several types of trauma and emotional numbness. He does describe and link sexual assault to suicidal tendencies, however. I just wish he expanded on that and beyond that to other types of traumas and motivators, and showed characters overcoming them. However, I know that with there being so many dimensions to the problem of suicide, he may have just wanted to focus on specific ones such as sexual assault and shame from mistakes.
While I loved the friendships between the characters, and I loved to see how dependable they were to their loved ones, I found some of them unrealistic. Nicholas paints an optimistic picture of reaching out to friends where they will always be there for you, but the reality is that friends and loved ones are often not dependable.
Sometimes it’s from their own intentional selfishness, and other times it’s from genuinely not being able to be there. I feel like many folks who struggle mentally and feel as if they have to go through personal battles alone feel like they don’t have anyone dependable to reach out to. Other times, some “friends” or loved ones don’t take their struggles seriously, as sad as that may be. However, I know that not all friends are like that. Perhaps the author was portraying the specific friends that can be reached out to. Perhaps he didn’t want to focus on the ones who weren’t or couldn’t be there. If he had included both types of friends, however, there may have been a pleasing contrast between real, dependable friends and fake, undependable friends.
Another thing to consider is that some people truly don’t have anybody they can turn to. Not only do they feel hesitant in reaching out to someone, but they simply don’t have options of anyone to reach out to. Many, as sad as it is, lack the emotional intimacy that humans crave and need to thrive.
They simply are estranged from any kind of relationship, any kind of intimacy, familial, platonic or romantic. They have no family and no friends. If they die, no one would notice their absence. Perhaps incorporating more relationships with kind strangers intervening in or coming into main character’s lives who loved the characters for the sake of being human would have been helpful for those readers who feel like they don’t have intimacy that enables love from another. In other words, showing how someone impacts the people around them and the world in general by means other than friendship may be helpful to some audiences. For instance, there could be a homeless woman who does not have any friends or family and lives a lonely life by herself. But perhaps, her existence is essential to the well-beings of others that do not require an intimate relationship with her to be impacted by her. For example, she may save the life of someone who passes by her or be the reason that stray cats and dogs around her are fed. Without her, the world wouldn’t be the same. In other words, I wish he showed how people struggling with suicidal tendencies and loneliness found other ways to cope in addition to receiving support from loved ones and other people. But perhaps the point is that people find meaning through relationships with other people. Maybe he was trying to say that even if someone doesn’t feel like they have intimacy currently or if they just don’t have it at all, they definitely have the potential to have it because they are worth it by just being human. Just by being themselves– priceless, unique and valuable.
I know that the author purposely wanted to combine several stories into a single book, but I definitely see potentials for some of these stories to become into longer stories and to have their own books. I’m not going to spoil what it’s about, but for those of you who have already read it or want to keep this in mind when reading Cycles of the Phoenix, I really liked the story Reunion. Actually, no, I didn’t like it– I freaking LOVED it.
It was so heartbreaking, yet hopeful. It addressed concepts of betrayal and redemption. desperation, love, regret, forgiveness and humanity. If Nicholas ever decides to turn this specific story into an entire book of its own, I will be delighted to read it.
Overall, like I said, this book was a stunningly human masterpiece that will stick with me for long times to come. It portrays humanity in such a raw, beautiful way. I could see this being turned into a series of short films or a movie— I bet it would be amazing.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
You are worthy. You are loved. You are human, no matter who you are, no matter who knows you or doesn’t know you. You. Are. Worthy. If you are struggling, please reach out to the above hotline. You are worth it and you deserve happiness.