Cover Image: The All-Night Sun

The All-Night Sun

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THE ALL-NIGHT SUN is a lyrical, pretty book about loss, inappropriate friendships, and Sweden. I enjoyed it, but it dragged a lot and could have probably been about 30% shorter. Also, after seeing the film MIDSOMMER last year (and being absolutely haunted by it since) it was hard not to compare the two and unfortunately, while this book has its climax take place at a midsommer festival, it just didn’t have the fireworks I think I was expecting (and perhaps, a super dark twist).

Instead, the book is about an English professor, Lauren, who becomes enamored with one of her students Siri, who is an international student from Sweden. Lauren is lonely and alone in life after a tragic accident that took both parents 10 years earlier, and she gloms onto Siri in a strange and, while not romantic, somewhat obsessive way. Siri eventually takes her to Sweden where things seems mysterious, and Lauren falls for her brother Magnus, but not too much happens (though we learn a lot about Sweden!) I liked the writing a lot, but given the fact that it felt like a slog and the action was lacking, I have to give it two stars.
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During the summer in southern Sweden, the sky never goes fully black at night; it only dims to a twilight glow for a few hours. The sun does dip below the horizon, unlike in the north and above the Arctic Circle, where it shines in the sky for 24 hours a day. The light contributes to a general sense of otherworldliness, creating a place without night, where nothing can remain fully hidden in the dark—if only for a few months. Ari Aster’s hit film Midsommar capitalized on this otherworldliness, incorporating Swedish folk customs, language, and geography into its psychological horror. Diane Zinna’s new novel The All-Night Sun, dreamed up nearly a decade before Aster’s film and released July 14, tells a similar story: A lost young woman goes on a trip to a friend’s hometown in Sweden to find herself in the wake of her parents’ tragic deaths; she takes hallucinogenic drugs on the night of the summer solstice and chaos ensues. But here, the surrealism—and the horror—comes from the way grief warps the passage of time and one’s sense of self.

Before she goes to Sweden, Lauren Cress is a 28-year-old adjunct professor at a fictional Catholic college outside D.C., teaching international students English composition. In that class, she meets 18-year-old Siri Bergström, who quickly becomes more than her student. Like Lauren, Siri lost both her parents, and she senses “in Siri’s gaze that she knew the parts I’d left unsaid.” There’s much inside Lauren that is unsaid. Since her parents died in an accident when she was 18, she’s been more of a shell than a fully realized person, floating through life without purpose or real connection beyond the men she sometimes brings home to feel something. Siri ignites a passion inside Lauren that looks, and acts, much like romance. Soon they spend all their time together, on campus and in Lauren’s apartment. When the semester’s nearly over and Siri invites Lauren to come to her home over the summer, she jumps at the chance, her career an afterthought. 

So far, Lauren has only seen Siri in love-bomb mode, all sweetness and light, but in her hometown she shows a more petulant, cruel, and capricious side to friends and family who are already under her spell. At times, Siri is downright childish, which seems to shock Lauren, but she is, after all, a child. Soon, Lauren experiences that cruelty for herself, and what happens on that brief trip changes her forever. Although only about half the novel is set there, Sweden is a far more vividly imagined setting than any American place, including the book’s hazy and imprecise Long Island and D.C. locales. Its geography is specific and accurate, perhaps reflecting how Lauren is more alive there than she ever was at home. 

Like many works of fiction that deal with—in a phrase—complicated female friendships, The All-Night Sun depends heavily on tropes of sexual and romantic obsession, but the novel and its narrator coyly refuse to plumb those depths. If Zinna is aware of the resonance, Lauren seems not to be. She at least knows that her attraction to Siri crosses teacher-student boundaries; she encourages Siri and her family not to tell anyone at the college about her trip and she fully unravels when, after tragedy, her colleagues find out she went. When one mentions “inappropriate behavior,” Lauren wonders if Siri’s friend said she’d “harassed” her student, although no one else has used the word harassment. Later, while staring at a painting by Siri’s older brother Magnus where Lauren and Siri are naked, she’s all too aware of “the incrimination of their nudity.” When Lauren has sex with Magnus, both she and Siri understand that it is a betrayal of their relationship. But Siri is always “a friend,” until she becomes another ghost haunting Lauren.

Lauren is hard for a reader to hold on to, even with all her rough edges, but that’s because there’s very little keeping her together. It can be frustrating at times, but the wandering narration and her increasingly foggy mental state feel true to the mind-numbing, almost supernatural effects of grief—it sends her time traveling into the past, conjures up ghosts, and creates alternate universes. Only by confronting it can she break its spell and consider the kind of person she can be going forward, or consider that she has a future at all. Ultimately, what’s illuminated by the summer sun and Santa Lucia’s candles in The All-Night Sun is the thorny, surreal nature of grief, both new and old, and the twisting path forward after loss.
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I'm quite sure I won't be the only reader to have been interested in this due to its apparent resemblance to the film "Midsommar." Unfortunately "The All-Night Sun" has a problem in the shape of its protagonist Lauren, who is intolerably annoying and behaves more like a teenager than her students, who actually *are* teens. I don't believe that characters need to be "likeable" at all, but it doesn't really seem we are supposed to see her that way nor is there any explanation of it. my impatience with Lauren made this book a frustrating read.
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When I first saw The All-Night Sun, I didn't care what the book was about because I was in love with the cover. Wow! Truly gorgeous. The story is an amazing book that had me captivated. It is beautifully written and a haunting look at life overwhelmed by loneliness and grief. It was a very moving story. I'm excited to see what Diane Zinna comes up with next.
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I have a hard time rating this book: The first half of The All-Night Sun felt slow and confusing. It was difficult to even sort of empathize with any of the characters or to understand their motivations, although the beautiful descriptions really made me want to go to Sweden. The last quarter or so of the novel, I felt a pivot, and while I still think the narrator was unrealistically naive, I would rate this book much higher for the last section of the book, where Zinna's reflections on grief and friendships really shine through.
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After a few attempts, I finally finished this novel. It is a slow starter that never really picks up speed. There is a bit of a twist toward the end, but, overall, I cannot recommend this one, personally.
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wow wow wow, 
this book was so touching. though I rarely (never) cry at books with this one I came pretty close.

this tells a wonderfully written story of grief, loss and love in a very unfair world.

highly recommend to everyone
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WHAT IS (AND ISN’T) HELD IN THE LIGHT: DIANE ZINNA’S THE ALL-NIGHT SUN
REVIEWED BY HOLLY M. WENDT

September 9th, 2020, TheRumpus.net

“A word can be like a cellar door. Just a few steps and you’re in a dark place.”

In the brisk September of 2007 when I walked the grassy flat of Stora Alvaret, I was looking for graves, if not expressly ghosts. The alvar is a low, dry plain on the southern end of the Swedish island of Öland, dotted with stone ships and other Iron Age funeral commemorations, and it was these I was researching, trying to pull together threads distant from me for a graduate school project. When Lauren Cress, the protagonist of Diane Zinna’s captivating debut novel The All-Night Sun, walks the same landscape of rough-hewn stone and long-stilled windmills, she’s caught in a net knotted by both the living and the dead.

John Gardner had an old saw about plots—that there are only two, and in one, someone goes on a journey, and in the other, a stranger comes to town—which is to say that maybe there’s only one plot and a choice of point of view. But any plot in the right hands can work its magic on a reader. Zinna’s novel deftly weaves together the premise of the journey and the stranger through the long light of Sweden’s Midsommar and the deep shadow of grief.

The novel’s central action is deceptively simple—mild-mannered adjunct professor takes ill-advised trip with a student—but its execution is gripping from the start, aptly rooted in the power of storytelling. Lauren first meets Siri, a Swedish college student in Lauren’s composition class for international students, through the tales Siri tells about her home.

In essays, Siri had written about this place imbued with magic: trolls; water spirits; the holiday called Midsommar, when everyone flees the cities for the countryside, when everyone turns young again. Midsommar, when the sun didn’t set and night’s torments didn’t come. Really? She’d agreed, yes, it was that green, that fresh, that new—everything would just be thawing out.

In Lauren’s first-person narration, her hunger for such a place is palpable—for a place where magic can still happen, for the idea of beginnings, for any kind of respite from her grief. After her parents die in a car accident when Lauren is only just legally an adult, leaving her utterly alone, the pall of their deaths drapes everything. She has no extended family, no friends close enough or old enough to help her wade these waters. She notices very quickly the way her truth affects others, so she alters it or omits it entirely through the next ten years of her life, shaping her story according to the cantilever of others’ expectations, even at her own expense:

When I met new people, I did not tell them about it. The nature of my parents’ deaths made it hard for me to talk about. The idea of their drowning in a car—I feared that by sharing it, the image would continue to live in other people’s minds. And they’d want to say something, but what can someone say? The car would just rev and dive in the strangers’ thoughts, and they’d be left on the bridge without a clue of how to respond to me. I came to believe the most polite thing to do was let the memory of it die inside me. And part of me started to die away with it.

Lauren’s fixation on images leads her to idealize her landscapes, which Zinna handles with striking precision and transportive beauty. The small liberal arts college where Lauren teaches is sculpted, well-planted: “its alcoves filled with art, bronze plaques fastened to the corners of white buildings, hedges cut into the shapes of animals.” There are roses, endless varieties, and walking paths, a place that, in its order and structure and community, creates a scaffold on which Lauren hopes to build: “I liked to think that at some point Stella Maris could feel like a family.” By allowing the college to impose its expectations on her—a facsimile of peace and orderliness—Lauren is able to think, at another moment of loneliness, “Having [the roses’] names inside me made it easier when that boyfriend moved on again in three months’ time.”

When Siri appears, and in her words, Sweden, with all its textures and colors and folklore, has scaffolding that only appears sturdier. But it’s a frame that showcases another sense of loss: the way in which Lauren has been robbed of the young adult life she watches her students experience. The students’ presence highlights absence, amplifying Lauren’s unmooredness—too old and too much in a position of authority, as a teacher, to be properly within her students’ sphere; too young, too contingent to fit with other faculty—and Zinna’s narrator meets that omnipresent sense of absence with longing more than cynicism, an aching tenderness that is the gentlest kind of ravenousness. And so when Lauren discovers this stranger, Siri, also bears a similar burden of grief, it is inevitable that she will accept the friendship and the attendant journey Siri offers, no matter that it might cost her position, any hope of professional advancement.

The novel opens with a prologue in a kind of compressed time, which serves as an introduction to Siri, yes, but also an introduction to the trip and its final, shattering days. Just as present is the Swedish landscape whose bright magic—in Siri’s tellings—is catalyst to so many things. Lauren and Siri and Siri’s friends—all of whom are a decade younger than Lauren—go to a beach on the northern end of Öland called Neptuni Åkrar.

Neptuni Åkrar is a rocky shore punctuated by long, low slabs of indigo-gray stone revealed and hidden by the tide. Here is where, on my trip years ago, I dipped my fingers into the Baltic and brought them to my mouth, hoping that the salt water would help me understand the place, its history. In The All-Night Sun, it is at Neptuni Åkrar—Neptune’s beach—that it becomes clear to Lauren that there is altogether too much she doesn’t understand, that there are choices Siri demands she make that feel impossible, whether because of their differences in age, their differing attitudes toward Siri’s brother Magnus, or the way their griefs spark against each other. Still there is an undercurrent of beauty at every turn, a desperation to want the illusion offered by the place. Of that moment, later in the novel, Lauren says, “It had become so easy to believe in magic by then. I’d seen it and felt it in the places we’d been; in words, in light, and then that morning, in the inky flowers that bloomed in the water at Neptuni Åkrar, where Siri, Karin, and Frida’s blond hair all took on just the slightest tinge of blue from swimming.”

The depth of Lauren and Siri’s hunger for each other—for love, for friendship—is especially magnetic because it is a relationship that is not sexualized. Not only is this a refreshing departure from the bulk of professor-student interactions in literature, it speaks with powerful honesty about loneliness and connection. Lauren and Siri’s interactions are even partially framed in opposition to sexual attraction—Siri’s insistence that Lauren not get involved with her brother Magnus; Lauren’s fear when, on Öland, Siri accepts an invitation to go off with a strange man—and demonstrates an even more fraught intimacy: one that accepts and even enables their mutual web of partial truths. When it becomes clear that Lauren has told a fictionalized iteration of her parents’ deaths in a classroom exercise, Lauren says, of Siri, “She didn’t think it was peculiar that I had lied. She skipped right to understanding that—what? That there are sometimes reasons we don’t tell the whole truth.”

In the novel, the telling of a story becomes more important than the facts of it. When Siri talks about her brother’s art in contrast to her own, the way their visual remembrances of their mother have put them at odds, Siri says, “All I was doing there was trying to tell my own version of things, fix what he did.” In the story, there is power—beautifully true of the book itself—and the other stories inside the novel have power over the characters, particularly the mythological trappings of Sweden.

Siri, in an essay for class, writes about Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn, the black birds of thought and memory, and it’s memory that pecks at Lauren, not only of her parents’ passing and all of her attendant failures thereafter, but the conclusion of the trip itself, its aftermath. Trauma’s wing conceals and reveals. Mythological beings like Näcken and Skogsrå—both dangerous figures luring the tempted lover to their doom in water or woods—provide evocative, terrifying anchor points and situate the work still more firmly in place while showing how readily, even greedily, Lauren absorbs what is given her. Zinna’s use of these details productively unsettles the narrative; the broken truths in the characters’ mouths are as unstable as the ground Siri’s brother Magnus literally breaks to bury his paintings. There is blurring between the monstrous and the metaphorical, the literal and the figurative, especially as the characters careen toward the climax on Öland. In a novel centered on connection and understanding, every character is, or becomes, someone else’s stranger, and the effect is mesmerizing.

Diane Zinna’s The All-Night Sun holds, at its heart, illumination: what is shown, what is held in the light, which is also to say that what is hidden, what is kept in shadow, is also necessarily part of its project. The All-Night Sun does not disappoint; the interplay between the secrets the characters keep and their moments of revelatory intimacy create a striking chiaroscuro effect that is as much about the power of storytelling—its power to deceive and transgress as much as to soothe and heal—as it is about what and how we grieve.
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I'm going to come right out and start by saying that I LOVED this book. There were so many quotes and sentences throughout that were so beautiful and cut to the bone. One example is this sentence: “A word can be like a cellar door. Just a few steps and you're in a dark place.” I chose this one because I feel like it captures so much of this book of grief, loneliness, and unresolved trauma,

Simply, The All-Night Sun is one of the most haunting and beautifully written books I've read in a long time.

So, a simple summary of the story, as I never like to ruin anything for the next reader: Lauren's parents were killed in a car crash when she was 18. She works her way through college and ends up teaching creative writing at a small university just outside of Washington DC. She is popular with her students, but always a sort of separate entity from everyone else. She especially connects with a Swedish student Siri who seems to be kind, empathetic, and free-spirited. When Siri invites Lauren on a trip to Sweden during Midsommar activities, Lauren begins to see a darker side of Siri. This was a very realistic novel of how friendships can control your life. I also found it achingly relatable as we have all had a friend that we thought was perfect and then had to take off the rose-colored glasses and face that they weren't- because none of us are.
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Lauren is planning to travel with Siri. She is a teacher. I liked the characters and feel. I liked the dialogue.
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Truly a haunting and beautifully written story of a young woman in deep pain and grief. Not what I would turn to if I was having a sad day but a lovely book full of depth and real old fashioned, first person character study.
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“Grief can feel like homesickness.” Diane Zinna writes. This searing and lyrical novel tackles hard themes of complicated friendship, self-destruction, remorse, and betrayal. This book starts with binds formed in mutual loss: "...I sensed more deeply what had drawn Siri and me together: not just the loss of our parents, but the family stories never finished..." 

But we quickly learn that this is not a fluffy beach read. The story bleeds with self-loathing, secrets, and regret. 

"I think back to the stories the women in my family told, and they were always about women like this, who ruin things."

Yet I wouldn't call our wounded narrator unlikeable or inscrutable. Rather. she is deeply wounded, lonely, searching for connection. It's a complicated book but one worth reading. I've definitely not read anything similar.
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I tried to push through this one but just couldn't reconcile the floweriness of the writing with the ickiness of the plot and the protagonist. I DNF'd at 55%.
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I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Lauren, a young woman, is teaching in a prestigious school.   She befriends one of her students and travels with the girl, Siri, over summer break.  In their friendship, she crosses lines of professionalism and creates problems in her life.
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A beautiful and painful book. The story of a troubled young professor and her intense friendship with a Swedish international student.

Traveling with her student, Lauren finds herself entangled with the student’s friends and older artist brother. Zinna writes sentences that can take you from the highest highs to the lowest lows in a few words. 

Admittedly, I did feel that the Midsommer setting was a little too...."Midsommer' the movie. With that weird space between sleep and awake, with not knowing if things are real or a dream. 

Still, this book is wonderful. .
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The All-Night Sun is not what I was expecting. I'm not sure what it was about the synopsis that had me confused, but I'll include my own below just in case you had the same experience.

Lauren lost both her parents in an accident when she was just 18 years old. She had no other family or support system and as a new adult had no life experience to deal with their sudden deaths and the responsibilities left in their wake. Lauren was unmoored and completely alone. Where The All-Night Sun begins ten years have passed and Lauren is working as an adjunct professor teaching english comp to international students at a small Catholic college. Despite the years, Lauren has never had a serious relationship—only short encounters with passing men—nor even a close friendship. She desperately seeks connection with her first year students until Siri, an 18 year old Swedish exchange student, ends up in her class and they form an intense emotional connection. When Siri invites Lauren to come back to Sweden with her over summer break she accepts despite the huge professional risk.

What I loved most about this book was the writing itself. The prose is lovely, being both lyrical and melancholy. More than anything I loved the descriptions of nature which just sparkled on the page. Especially at the beginning, I felt I could highlight the whole thing.

This started with a good sense of suspense. I loved the dreamlike unease that fills the pages. There's almost an Alice's Adventures in Wonderland quality where things are just not how to thought you knew them to be. Unfortunately, I felt it was ultimately undermined by its own pacing. It started strong with its beautiful prose and anticipation and—to a lesser extent—ended strong. However, there was a good while in the middle that failed to keep my interest. This is not a complaint of being "slow," a quality I generally quite like, but of a lack of progress and development. Similarly, the lyricism I loved so much at the beginning seemed to take a backseat as the story progressed, something that would have kept my attention despite being otherwise uneventful.

This is, by no means, a bad book. In many ways it's quite lovely and there is a lot to enjoy about it, and I definitely did (not to mention that cover.) But I do feel that it might have been better served with some further editing down.
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Review // The All-Night Sun by Diane Zinna
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The Facts: Literary Fiction, Debut Novel
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The Feel: Haunting, Compelling, Descriptive, Complex, Brilliant
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The Focus: Lauren is grieving the sudden death of her parents, who were her only real family. Working as an adjunct professor in DC, she meets a student named Siri, who is also dealing with the death of her mother. Lauren clings to Siri for hope and support, eventually accompanying her home to Sweden for a debauched Midsommar festival. This is ultimately a study in grief, loneliness and consequences.
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Things To Know:
🇸🇪 I've finally found it - my favorite book of 2020! I know I say this a lot, but this really was the most beautiful book I've read in a very long time. Zinna's writing is incredible - smooth, descriptive, vivid, gutteral. As soon as I started reading, I was in it, traveling to Sweden, swirling around in Lauren's anguish, wondering how I would possibly get by in a similar situation. I couldn't put it down.
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🇸🇪 I've never read a book that so perfectly and hauntingly captured grief. I felt it in the pit of my stomach. I cried more than once. I wanted to reach through the pages and hug Lauren, take her in and protect her. This is a story of loss and yearning, for family and home, for a place to belong. It's a story about spiraling into obsession. It's a story about how hurt people hurt people. It's incredibly sad and incredibly brilliant.
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🇸🇪 As always, I loved how immersive and escapist this book was. I love to travel far and wide through the stories I read, experiencing as many countries and cultures as possible. I was right there in Sweden, exploring the underground art, making flower crowns, watching the sun finally start to set at 11:00 p.m. Siri's siblings and home life were fascinating, as was the truly debauched Midsommar festival they attend on the last night of Lauren's trip.
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Read If You Like:
🇸🇪 Midsommar (without the horror)
🇸🇪 The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
🇸🇪 Complex character studies
🇸🇪 Catharsis
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I'm still shocked that this was a debut. Brilliant and beautiful. ALL THE STARS!! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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Question: What lengths will main character Lauren go to escape her painful truths? Answers: Across an ocean and from start to finish of this gorgeously wrought novel. Lauren is a lonely, lonely soul seeking a bridge to connect her to anyone -- anyone. Yet her debilitation stems from a tragedy involving a bridge. She seeks the consolation of family, yet her only family have left her alone. When Lauren secretly (and inappropriately, in the eyes of her colleagues) accompanies one of her students home for the summer, the trip from DC-area private college to Sweden at mid-summer is by turns lavish and destitute. Diane Zinna uses language and imagery to such exquisite effect. How does a lonely soul like Lauren disentangle herself from all the lies and ghosts she's lived with for so long? There's surely a lyrical Swedish word for the lovely way Zinna guides us to that answer.

[Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.]
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Love in the spring , like love in the summer is new fresh, untried and always true. This is the case of a young woman ,an adjunct at a cross roads of discovery when a young woman named Siri comes to her class. What begins in class is continued to Sweden ,Siri’s safe place. Hoping to share in those rare early moments in relationships the joy of new places,a foreign language and a world familiar to one and eye opening to another. There is plenty of angst to go around,but the beauty of life and the unbidden cruelty of death is captured here with a poetry and resolve well worth the time. Happy reading
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Many thanks to Netgalley and publishers for this review copy.

I was so engrossed with Zinna’s The All-Night Sun. It’s beautifully written and tells a story of love and loss. I could feel Lauren’s lonesomeness and her hope for this new friendship with Siri. I found myself relating badly to Lauren;, how a new friendship gave her so much hope for an improvement in her life and the possibility she could come to terms with her parents’ death. 

I am completely wowed by the writing and Zinna’s ability to make me feel so much.
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