I think an alternative title for this book could have been something like Women and Love or What Women Mean When They Talk About Love. Something likeI think an alternative title for this book could have been something like Women and Love or What Women Mean When They Talk About Love. Something like that. It was so beautiful in this delicate, fine-art way, and I was so surprised at this book’s beauty, that I feel totally inadequate in trying to describe my reaction to it. It is that type of beauty I feel when I think about the improbability of our bodies being alive or of Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel or of microscopic images of snowflakes. There is no way the universe could conspire so delicately for those things to work in such a way that their beauty is not so improbable as to be obscenely contrived, but somehow it does work. It is beautiful.
And now that I’ve compared this book to the Sistine Chapel, there is no way anyone could go into it liking it. It’s like that time this douchey guy told me that Bright Eyes is the new Bob Dylan. I mean, Bright Eyes is not great anyway – talk about being in love with your own mysterious allure – but, compared to Bob Dylan, Mr. Eyes is just embarrassing. So, here I am ruining this book for you like that.
At the same time, after reading this, I understood a lot more why someone would write a book like Olive Kitteridge, using multiple, somewhat unrelated, perspectives strung together by a common theme. While that one just seemed ridiculous, this one soared for me, and I can see how, as an author, you could want to aim for this kind of delicacy in weaving together stories.
I listened to this on audio, and it was like hearing someone describe every way a woman’s love can be beautiful and painful, harsh and delicate. Some books will make me cry, but this book brought me to tears, which is the same thing but more elegant because of this story’s elegance. The reader’s voice was lovely, and the only fault with listening to this on audio was that there was so much I wanted to hear and follow that I know I missed a lot. I usually choose audio books based on the idea that it won’t matter if I space out during the book (because I space out a lot while I’m walking to work and listening to them), so I normally choose a book that I’ve read before or something I don’t think I’ll love that much. I was surprised at how much I loved this one and how much I felt I missed by listening to the audio. It is not a difficult book, but it definitely contains subtlety and passages that I would probably have read over again if I were reading it on the page.
This is not a very exciting review, I think, because it doesn’t contain an exciting story. I have the most wonderful job in the world right now, at which the most amazing things happen, but I can’t talk about it on the internet. And, no, my job is not Fight Club. If I could, I would tell you about how this has probably been the best year of my life so far, and about all of its beauty and fullness, and about how pain is as much a part of the beauty as comfort or wonder are. And I would tell you about the women I have seen and the ways they are with the love in their lives. But, instead, I will just be vague, and say that this book resonated with me both in the year I have had and in the life I have had. It talked about the right things and in the right way.
And, of course, it was about a book, which I imagine is the universal symbol of love....more
Oh, Kristin Cashore, I would trust you with my life. This series breaks my heart and patches it all back together again. This book was so different frOh, Kristin Cashore, I would trust you with my life. This series breaks my heart and patches it all back together again. This book was so different from the first two in pace, but somehow, and I say this almost reluctantly, that made the end more meaningful to me. I am all about editing in stories, and for the first half of this book, the redundancies seemed unnecessary and boring. But, I don’t actually think they are now. I think they had some purpose, though I don’t know that I could articulate it for you. I was wrong in what I thought this ending would be, and I’m glad I was wrong. It was so much more brutal than I expected, but more meaningful in that way. Are there more of these? Are you going to write more books for me, Kristin Cashore? I love your people, the evil and the good, the sins of our fathers and frailty of our mothers. I love them.
This story picks up with little Bitterblue, now the queen of her empire. If Graceling borrows somewhat in spirit from Aliens, Katsa is our Ripley and Bitterblue is Newt. And now Newt comes into her own with the responsibility for a nation that was totally fucked by her father, by the lies he told and his control and manipulation. She doesn’t even know how fucked her nation is because after you’ve lived in lies for so long, how does anyone know what the truth is? And is the truth more dangerous that willful ignorance if what you’re ignoring is an abomination? Ugh. Beautiful, awful choices. And forgiveness! And stories! Oh man, beautiful. Just the idea of figuring out how to repair a nation from violence and lies is beautiful.
But, anyway, and Katsa/Ripley has taught Bitterblue/Newt how to fight and protect herself, and where Graceling pointedly tells the story of a woman fighter, a survivor, Bitterblue makes no point of Bitterblue’s completely human, normal ability to defend herself. She just can kick an ass if she needs to, and other times she can’t. Her strength is not a super power, it’s just human power.
This book, in contrast to the first two, felt more high-fantasy to me. It uses the conventions of alternate languages, involved descriptions of coded communication, and a lot of walking (which, to be fair, the walking is in the other two as well. Fantasy, man – bring your Nikes). It is not actually high fantasy, I’m sure, so don’t get all excited if that’s your thing. It is not my thing, but the incorporation of those conventions seemed fun to me, not annoying. It kept enough of a super-hero feel that I tracked.
Now I’m going to talk about where this series really resonates with me. I always think, you know, women are raised that a man on a white horse will come, swoop us up, marry us, and that marriage will magically solve all of our problems. When that doesn’t actually happen, we think, Oh, it’s because if we have children, that will actually solve all of our problems. When having children doesn’t solve all of our problems, we think, Oh, if we run off to an exotic island and have a romantic Eat Pray Love affair, that will solve all of our problems.
I think men are in basically the same position – if he finds the right girl and marries her, she will decorate his house, and always be there with a smile, a hug, and a plate of cookies, and that will solve the problems. Then, when that doesn’t work, it’s basically the same with the children and the affair. But, in the end, we are always left with ourselves. Marriage and children and lovers don’t take us away from ourselves and fix us the way the stories promised.
I love the way the Twilight saga exaggerates those promises to the point of absolute absurdity, but I love even more the way this series exists entirely outside of those promises. This series doesn’t try to deus ex machina our guilts, doubts, and shame away, but it presents characters working through them, living with grief, and learning about their power.
I think it is a second-wave feminism phrase to say a woman is empowered or disempowered, and I’ve been thinking about the use of that word lately because someone I’ve been around a lot routinely uses it. I kind of don’t like the word “empowerment,” I think. It seems somewhat inaccurate to me, even along the lines of the promise that our problems can be magically solved by some kind of social convention. “Marriage didn’t magically solve your problems? Well, then, empowerment will magically solve them.” I don’t think everyone means that when they use the word “empowerment,” just like I don’t think everyone who gets married or has kids thinks that will magically solve their problems, but I think both avenues can lead to that expectation. The idea of empowerment or disempowerment just sounds to me like somehow you can subscribe to something outside of yourself that will magically take away your problems. It indicates that the power wasn't there all along, but if you follow the treasure map right, you'll find the magic problem-solving solution.
But, along those lines, I love the message in this book, like in The Hunger Games series, that we need to discover our own power - that it was there all along, and that life was never about finding a magic that lets us take the easy way out. In Mockingjay, everyone around Katniss reminds her of her power until she recognizes it. Here, similarly, this story is a journey of Bitterblue realizing her power. It is beautiful. It is the work that we all face that is bigger than marriage or children or politics or career. It’s the self that we are left with when the world is on our shoulders and we have no shoulder to lean on ourselves. This story is full of so much hope and so many dreams. I love it. ...more
Culture imposes on women constant indoctrination of the idea that our vaginas should make us small, weak, and incapable of caring for ourselves or othCulture imposes on women constant indoctrination of the idea that our vaginas should make us small, weak, and incapable of caring for ourselves or others.
"A woman could obviously never be a fire fighter, for example." "We couldn't send a woman to do that military job because what if she got her period? She couldn't take a week off when she's there!" "There are just some days in the month when a woman diplomat wouldn't be able to do her job." "I wouldn't watch women's sports because women aren't as strong as men, but I guess the clothes are hot." "But, if we hire her, she'll probably want more time off because she has a kid, so she won't be able to do her job." "Sure one 'woman' did that, but she isn't like real women, and she's probably a lesbian."
It is easy to internalize that thinking, even though it obviously makes very little sense. Plenty of men are short and women are tall. Plenty of women are athletic and men sedentary. Gender has very little to do with physical strength, abilities, or athleticism. And, of course, plenty of men experience indoctrination that they are weak or lazy, and plenty of women, thankfully, live in families that undermine these stereotypes, so I'm not talking in specifics here. What I'm talking about is media and culture and the gendered expectations they impose as a sort of zeitgeist based in gender. That spirit is still that femininity is weak and masculinity is strong, and even where we see it making no sense, it is easier said than done to untangle right from wrong.
This second installment of the adventures of Lisbeth Salander looks very academically at appearances in basically the same manner as Girl With the Dragon Tattoo analyzed consent. It has Lisbeth with dark hair and light, tattoos and implants. It sizes her, the smallest of small girls, up against the most giant of giant men. It is also clever, in the same academic way that GWTDT was with consent, in easing the reader into comparisons and becoming more extreme, developing the idea to its furthest, as the book goes on. The boxer takes on the giant; Lisbeth takes on the douchey biker: Larssen eases us into the comparison of sizes and appearances. And the idea is this: appearance and size do not dictate our successes and failures; they should not dictate who we are.
I think the idea of Lisbeth getting implants early on in the book is interesting. The feel of the way it plays out with her seems . . . off, but I still can appreciate a sort of contrast between my instinctive reaction to Lisbeth altering her body with tattoos to my reaction to her altering her body with implants. On the one hand, I do think my aversion to the idea of implants is valid because of all of the women I’ve known whose implants have become infected or calcified. It’s just a bad health decision in most cases, in my opinion, in a way that I don’t think tattoos are unhealthy as a rule. On the other hand, I can see how altering your own body, in any way, can be experimental and interesting and give a sense of ownership. So, to the extent I start to judge the choice to get implants as succumbing to an oppressive social idea of women’s bodies, and getting tattoos as valid and empowering, I don’t think I’m being entirely fair. I am cool with a woman doing what she wants with her body, and judging a woman based on plastic surgery ultimately seems as dumb to me as judging her based on her tattoos.
Still, it seems unlikely to me that a woman who had a bad day would run herself a Jacuzzi bath and sink to the bottom of it, pinching her nipples really hard, even if she had just gotten a boob job she was super excited about. That seemed weird. It also seemed weirdly simplistic to me to describe how pleased Lisbeth was with her implants and how they made her feel attractive. I don’t dispute the idea that implants could make a woman feel attractive, but that seems like a shallow emotion to describe compared to other, underlying feelings that go along with it. Maybe it is not true for every woman, but when I drastically change my appearance to look more like a magazine and get a lot of positive feedback for it, there is always a feeling of betrayal I have that goes deeper than the flattery. I look more like a doll, and what people want from me is that I be a doll. But, I know that is not who I am or want to be. It also reminds me that people are suckers for media. So, while I don’t think those are universal feelings, I do think that Lisbeth and I have similar enough outlooks that it throws me off that she would be so single-mindedly pleased with her boobs.
Also, I will tell you right now that blond hair is not a good disguise. You go from dark hair to blond and you immediately get a lot more attention. Not that I think people would have identified Lisbeth, because I think they would have just been looking at her hair and boobs, but it is not a good disguise.
So, I appreciate the academic comparisons of appearance, but I felt very disengaged with this story and these characters overall. Blomkvist is such a douche. Every time he said something, with his simpering patience, I wanted to punch him. The letter he wrote to Salander. Oh my god. I hate that guy. What a manipulative, selfish martyr.
What was with Larsson being totally cool with Salander’s statutory rape of the island kid? Oh wait, huh, did he say later in the book that the age for statutory rape in Sweden is super young? Nevertheless, why was Salander okay with that? Everything that happened at the beginning of this book was very disorienting. In GWTDT, you could have cut the first 100 pages, but in this, you could have cut the first 200. Not looking forward to the first 300 pages of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.
I don’t hate Salander at all, but I do feel somewhat indifferent about her. At the end of this one, when (view spoiler)[she dies and gets buried, I was like, “Huh, that is a bold move,” but I felt no emotion about it. And then it is made less bold by her rising again, but whatever (hide spoiler)]. Partly, regardless of what happens to her, I think Lisbeth’s life is already forfeit to this war she is fighting, so it is difficult to have hopes for her. She isn’t really a person, with her own dreams, because that isn’t possible for her - she is a sort of slave to fighting hatred of women. That is important, and I love that about her character, but at the same time, it’s not very human. It’s not emotionally complex.
Or, maybe it is ambivalence I feel about Lisbeth, not indifference, because in this one, like in GWTDT, there was a moment where she quoted something I recently said. It came about three-fourths of the way through the book, like it did in GWTDT, and it was sort of like a slap in the face. Like watching a robot take on my personality. Weird. I feel connected to Lisbeth through those things that she says, but it still always feels like Larsson was following me around, saw me say something, and wrote it down. And seeing me from the outside didn’t really tell him what was behind the thing I said. That’s how I feel about Salander – like Larsson couldn’t crack through her character to tell me what was inside. Those are the things I want to know about a character: the guts and innards. I want an author to take them apart and show me the character’s beating heart. That is not Larsson’s skill, so I end up feeling disconnected.
It is interesting that so much of this seems so purposeful, but an almost equal amount of it seems like a waste of space. After the first 200 pages, I was with the story, but until then I was doing some serious sighing and eye-rolling. I think it is a good policy to read these books in one sitting, and probably not while you’re reading The Iliad, which is what I did. The Iliad is like a bowl of rich chocolate mousse, where you can take one bite and be satisfied for days. This book is like what I imagine a Billy’s Pan Pizza to be: something sort of tasteless to rush through for the satisfaction of feeling full in the end. There is nothing to savor, but it has its place.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Kristin Cashore has this way of taking a rough stereotype of a woman and still talking about her in a full, human, contradictory way that such a stereKristin Cashore has this way of taking a rough stereotype of a woman and still talking about her in a full, human, contradictory way that such a stereotype would feel if you lived in it. She simplifies the telling and complexifies heroine. In Graceling, she tells the story of a badass warrior woman, a survivor, an Ellen Ripley. In Fire, she tells the story of a beautiful trophy girlfriend, an aspiring homemaker, a super model who loves babies, a monster combination of Joan Harris and vampire Bella Swan. Our girl, Fire, is from a race of what the story cleverly calls “monsters,” and I like that both Fire and her society adopt that word as accurate. Her body is exactly what I would think of as a monster. I approve.
Briefly, for if you don't already know, in this story, our people live in a land where monsters are these sort of magical predators who crave blood and flesh, but are so beautiful and colorful that they mesmerize normal humans and animals just by their looks. They have mind-control powers, and when they are in human form, the mind control powers are stronger because, you know, humans are brainy. Fire got her name because she is a ginger, but a monster ginger, so her hair looks like fire, and she has to wrap it up because when dudes see it, they basically try to rape her and when animals monsters see it, they try to eat her. Hair is such a problem.
Now I am going to talk about my ruminations on the conflict between what our bodies are and what our essences, or souls, or whatever, are. Sometimes, I sit around and think about how disconnected I feel as a person from the way my body looks, regardless of the specifics of how I look at that particular moment – fat or thin; white, red, brown, black, or purple hair; strong or weak. Or maybe I feel disconnected from the way people react to my body; it is difficult to say for sure. It makes me think that before we are born, we are floating in the sky as some kind of disembodied essence, and we choose our bodies through a series of escalating dares. I wonder what made me choose this one.
Say, before you were born, your essence had these cards laid out on the poker table of body choices: you could be a gorgeous black woman in the 1950s in the South; the youngest, scrawniest brother in a family full of white coal miners; a rich, white sorority girl; or the son of the first Korean-American President of the United States. You know, say, that you, your essence, is a light, delicate thing, something that hates conflict and loves hot cocoa and hearth fires. Do you go with the safe bet or give yourself a challenge? Does that obnoxious other soul in the corner antagonize you into choosing the black woman in the 1950s just because it doesn’t think you could take it? Or do you go with the possibly safer, but more depressing, sorority girl? Could your delicacy and conflict-aversion handle living inside a man’s body in a society that shames delicate men?
Whatever you decide, you’re all, “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!” and you fly off into the horrors and joys of the body you chose. But, the rules are that once you’re there, you can’t remember how you got there in the first place. You have to fight that battle blind because otherwise the battle isn’t testing your instincts and you’re not as invested in the game.
Or maybe there’s some bureaucrat in the sky with a giant spreadsheet. I don’t know.
Fire made me think about who we are in essence and the way our bodies shape us because I think Cashore articulately describes the powerlessness of beauty and how, while we might aspire to that, it might not be something we really want. Fire's horrifying monster beauty and her horrifying X-Woman skill of mind control, and the shame she felt over those parts of herself were interesting. On the one hand, there is a little bit of a poor-little-rich-girl about the story that I think Graceling also had to some extent, but it doesn’t really dwell in it. There’s so much straight action and Fire is so heroic that it only nudges against the border of maudlin. I don’t think it really crosses over, or at least not often. But, I think that it illustrates how having a body, whether it is the body of a monster or not, is hard. Dealing with social reactions to a body is hard. But, it is worth it.
I think girls often have a sort of out-of-body experience of someone assuming a lot about our personalities from our appearances. Probably men experience that, too, though I wonder how similar the experiences are. I have dimples, so people often don’t expect me to be as much of an asshole as I am and feel extra betrayed by my bitchiness. Fire is kind of like that, too, in that her personality is not what the stories told people to expect from that body. Regardless of what the false expectation is, because it is probably different for us all, there is still that sense of being out of place in a body. I think it is an identifiable female sentiment, and maybe identifiable because there is so much media propaganda about female bodies being wrong. But, at the same time, I have this instinctual sense that I am lucky to have a body at all, and that I should take care of it, and I get the feeling that most people have at least a sliver of that same instinct.
Anyway, I found this beautiful. I liked these people and animals. I liked Fire and I also liked the use of fire as imagery and its association with mourning and cleansing. At times, I found the light use of somewhat courtly language awkward, but that’s not a big deal when action is going down. I’m bumping this up to a five-star rating because I think it is ballsy to write a sequel that is only loosely connected to the first, and I thought that was a well-executed ballsy move. Addressing the stereotype of a beautiful, affectionate woman was smart after having told the story of a survivor in the first book.
I want to be Kristin Cashore’s friend. She is a bold woman....more
YA writing often lives on surfaces: the girl with the blue eyes fights with the dude with the grey eyes, car chase, change of clothes, somebody dies,YA writing often lives on surfaces: the girl with the blue eyes fights with the dude with the grey eyes, car chase, change of clothes, somebody dies, blue eyes and grey eyes kiss, to be continued. I find some storytellers exceptionally good at that type of writing. For example, Kristin Cashore knocked it out of the park with Graceling; Veronica Roth hit it with Divergent; and, of course, Suzanne Collins took that story, shook it all up, turned it upside down and used it as a mirror for the brokenness of humanity in Hunger Games. All of those authors talk in surfaces, but they still convey something I love. The prose does not stand alone, but the action does. As with anything, that seems to be a specific skill, and I’m sad to say that I think Moira Young is out of her element in that type of story but has decided to turn Saba’s adventure into that anyway.
To be fair, there was some thoughtful subtlety of relationship plot in this that I appreciated. It is so common to see male protagonists get seduced by a femme fatale and then go back to kicking ass, but you don’t really see that with female protagonists. You don’t see female protagonists (view spoiler)[making mistakes with sex, worrying about pregnancy, betraying the right guy but still being noble in heart, doing much but ultimately monogamously committing to the right guy (hide spoiler)]. I have a lot of respect for Young’s introduction of more nuanced and complicated choices on Saba’s part. At the same time, though, I think there is a reason we don’t see female protagonists like that – because it is as douchey to listen to a girl talk about being seduced by a homme fatale as it is to listen to a man being seduced by a femme fatale. And I don’t really care if the douchiness is induced by a Discovery Channel orgasm – still douchey. (view spoiler)[It was tough to watch a kickass girl, who I loved so much in the first book, be so douchey in this book. I don’t feel like it was more tough than watching Harry Potter be douchey in the fifth HP, or, say, than watching a friend say something douchey, but, nevertheless, Saba has some seriously douchey moments in this book, and it was itchy to read that (hide spoiler)].
Digression about douchiness: it is really fun to watch TV shows in which douchey people get punched in the face a lot. For example, one of the best things about How I Met Your Mother is how you get to see Barney Stinson, the douchiest guy on the planet, get punched in the face all the time. Likewise, Vampire Diaries is fun because you get to see the Dawson’s Creek characters get eaten by vampires. I struggle with watching characters I love become douchey, though. While, in real life, we probably all have our douchey moments, and maybe a slice of douchiness adds some realism to a story, I do not go to YA fantasy for realism. I would rather see stories with male protagonists lose the douchiness (or save it for the characters getting punched in the face and eaten by vampires) than see stories with female protagonists pick up the douchiness. I know you can make a good argument about it validating girls making mistakes, and that’s fair, but I just don’t find it very entertaining in either male or female protagonists. And here I am now, entertain me.
Even though Saba was an asshole in the first book, I could get behind that. My friend has this rule that if you are more funny than you are mean, you are okay. For me, too, if your amount of badassery outweighs your assholiness, you are okay. And, in the first book, Saba’s badassery was crazy high, while her assholiness was moderate. In this book, she has very little badassery, and her assholiness was gone but replaced with douchiness. In the roshambo of unfortunate character traits, douchiness can only be dominated by a punch in the face. Sorry, Saba, but I would stand in line to deck you or smash you with a cream pie. I would put a banana peel outside of your tent just to watch you slip on it. For your own good.
My point is that I think I figured out why the first half of Blood Red Road was so beautiful, and the second half fell so flat. The first half lived in cracks and dwelt on Saba. Saba did things: she discovered the land and people around her and defended herself, but it still had a good balance of dwelling in moments. It was magic to me. It was not in the typical style of surface-action YA, and there was only loose plot, but I loved that about it. I think the ability to pause and consider and dig deep into a character is more valuable than the ability to plot, though I do appreciate both. So, when Young captured that in the first part of BRR, it really knocked me out more than YA typically does.
Once BRR stopped digging into Saba and her surroundings and started skimming the surface, though, it got boring and kind of lame. This second book continued with the skimming, and that is not Young’s talent in my estimation. She doesn’t pull it off as solidly as Cashore, Roth, or Collins. Even in this book, for the brief moment when Saba dropped the other characters, the story got really interesting. For the most part, though, it was scattered and the plotting seemed simplistic, while at the same time it made very little sense. There were loose ends, dangling characters, and fuzzy motivation. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the first part of Blood Red Road, but Rebel Heart is not the series I married anymore.
Also, I want to kick Lugh so hard in the balls that he sees stars until this whole series is over. ______________________________ The publisher provided me with a copy of this book. Also, fun fact: it took me exactly the time of my flight (with one stop) from Portland to Chicago last week to read this book. I started reading when the first plane took off, and I finished when the second plane prepared for landing. High five on that, book. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I do not love being in the desert, but I think I do love reading about other people being in the desert. Is that schadenfreude? I guess I kind of likeI do not love being in the desert, but I think I do love reading about other people being in the desert. Is that schadenfreude? I guess I kind of like reading anyone who really has the feel of a setting, and I think Nancy Farmer has that here. This was desolate and full of desert flowers, and just enough mystery and elusive environmental contamination to set the scene for a lovely dystopian world. This was a wonderful, scary, heartwarming, chilling, inspiring story.
While I was reading this, I kept wondering if maybe I was experiencing some of the pleasure other people get from Wither. Like Wither, this one had that genetic-manipulation future, with redesigned geography, and some gadgets, but still a mostly familiar setting. But, this one wasn’t stupid; it was really smart and amazing. It questions science, religion, politics, the nature of friendship, the nature of power.
This book follows the main character, Matt, a clone, through his childhood, as he experiences isolation, torture, rejection, lavish gifts and education, friendship, mentoring, and daring adventures. A lot of books feel like the author thinks her audience is an idiot, so she slooooows the character’s perception of the world down and throws in neon arrows with every reveal. This didn’t feel like that, and it was refreshing to read. Matt was smart, and he caught on to what went on around him quickly, or if he didn’t, it was because he was purposefully, and justifiably ignoring it for emotional preservation. Even if he wouldn’t acknowledge what was happening, Farmer still expected the reader to be in the know. And we were. Most of the time.
Although I have to admit that a couple of times I was like, Wait WHAT??? Ohhhhhh!!!! But, that only made it more fun.
I only have two complaints, having to do with the reductionist political messages I think are here in two places. First, there is a part where the eeeeeevil drug lord, El Patron, (view spoiler)[takes the brains of clone babies and Science inserts them into his brain to help him live longer (hide spoiler)]. That felt like a cheap dig at stem-cell research, to me. The book doesn’t dwell on it or make it a big point, but I feel like that is a complex issue, and it was a simplistic way to address it.
My second complaint is somewhat similar. Many people have complained that the last section of the book feels like an odd tack-on to the rest of the story. I agree to some extent, and I think it could have just as easily been its own book and worked better (like, if House of the Scorpion ended at Tam Lin taking Matt out, and the next book started with him at the oasis). But, I don’t really have a problem with it because, even though it was slower, I still really enjoyed it and all of the characters and the friendships with the boys. The thing I didn’t care for was the reductionist eeeeeevil of the socialist Keepers. That seemed a little easy and silly.
With both of those complaints, I feel like the topics are serious enough that they deserve a more complex characterization. Like, if you characterize your enemy as a moron, doesn’t that in some way reduce you to your enemy’s level and make you a moron, too, just for arguing with a moron? But, especially with new scientific and political problems, I think it benefits both sides of an argument to see the value, or at least the complexity, in an issue.
Anyway, those things didn’t really bother me that much, they were just minor issues. Overall, the story and characters were just wonderful. Cecelia and her bedtime stories, Tam Lin’s spelling, Maria’s Saint Francis, Chacho’s sympathy, Ton-ton’s slow reasoning. I loved them all. This was a really brilliant story. Straight, edge-of-my-seat fun. ________________________ I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for nothing.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
So, this is where ratings fail me. I mean, ratings are kind of ridiculous anyway because how can I fit all of my love for the books that I love and alSo, this is where ratings fail me. I mean, ratings are kind of ridiculous anyway because how can I fit all of my love for the books that I love and all of my hatred for the books that I hate into five little stars? I can’t. Here’s how I feel about this book: I liked it exactly as much as I liked Divergent. That used to be a four-star rating for me. But, then I read Graceling, which I like a ton better than Divergent, so then Graceling became a four-star for me. Because, I mean, I can’t love Graceling as much as, like The Hunger Games or Daughter of Smoke and Bone, for example. AAARRRGHHH! What is a girl to do???
I am having a star-rating meltdown about this book!
I am giving it four stars because I liked it equally to Divergent, but this stretches my four-star rating to cover a really broad range of books. I like Tris. Four is hot. The action is fun in this story. There is a lot of good to it. But, the fact that I am giving this, Swann's Way and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo four stars shows that there is true injustice in the universe, and in my rating system.
I am often confused in YA novels about whether people are having sex or not, and if not, why not. That is true in this book. These kids are sleeping in the same bed the whole time, but I honestly can’t tell you if they are sleeping together. I guess I’d say not. But, there is a lot of non-sex activity that leads me to wonder whether I’m supposed to think that the fade out is fading out to sex. I guess it doesn’t make that much of a difference to me, but I am curious.
But, now down to something more serious. A lot of this book is about suicide, I think, and Roth deals with it in a way that I basically like. For various reasons, I take the topic of suicide very personally, as we all probably do. It makes me so angry when I see those books, and I think there were a few of them coming out a couple of years back, that go through a story explaining why a group of people caused a suicide. While I do think it is possible for a person to be driven to suicide by the treatment of others (as, of course, the It Gets Better project addresses), I think that ultimately suicide is a very personal, and often only selfish, choice.
By saying it is selfish, I don’t mean to be accusatory or uncompassionate to people who struggle with suicide. And I certainly don't mean to disparage the memory of anyone who is dead because of that monster. Honestly, the reason I feel personally about suicide is that I grew up in a house where my father often threatened to commit suicide, and I myself was suicidal for a lot of years (though I haven’t been for many years, so no worries on that front). I like how Roth talks about the interplay between self-sacrifice and selfishness and how that struggle manifests in the question of whether life is worth it. Strangely, I feel like she danced around that struggle a lot in an attempt to show and not tell, but I feel like the complexity of that issue is here in this book. Tris struggles with the sacrifices others have made for her and in her self-focus, which manifests as self-condemnation and survivor guilt, her internal struggle in this book becomes whether she can continue to live when so many have died. I like that (view spoiler)[ultimately she decides to live on her own and for herself, and not just for Tobias (hide spoiler)].
In the end, the crushing, spiraling questions of whether we would be better off dead is only selfish, and I’ll tell you the answer: no. No one else will be better off because of your death - suicide is not generous. Your life is important, even if you don’t even typically kick as much ass as Tris. Your life is important independent of what anyone else thinks of you or how much they sacrifice or don’t sacrifice for you. Your life is important even if people hate you as much as you think they do. Probably, if you get over yourself, and stop worrying about all that bullshit, you could kick an equal amount of ass to the ass that Tris kicks in this book. You could do it. I like that Tobias doesn’t feed the Audrey II monster of Tris’s selfish self-condemnation because I think that is what people need to hear. Sometimes pity from others doesn’t cultivate self-respect, but only grows the weeds of self-pity.
There is one part that I particularly like in this, where Tris asks Tobias if he is giving her an ultimatum, and he says, no, that he is just stating a fact that he won’t consider her to be herself if she continues to be self-destructive. Snaps to that, dude. There is a lot of heaviness and mistrust to this book, as, really, there was in Divergent as well. In part, I think that happens because this whole series pretty clearly comes from a framework within Protestant Christian morality, but questioning it, which is basically a serious situation. The story, though, feels burdened in some way by that questioning.
I think Graceling was more fun to me partly because it lived outside of that type of structure, so it felt less rigid. At the same time, both books dwell heavily on the idea of control, and that is really interesting to me. I think the idea of control is particularly relevant to the audience of these books, so I’m glad there are smart women exploring stories based on overcoming control with strong, vulnerable heroines who grow in learning to trust themselves.
To copy Catie's style, the song that feels to me like this book is Radiohead’s Reckoner.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
**spoiler alert** If there's one thing that makes my blood boil and my skin ripple with creepy crawlies, it's a story that disrespects real suffering.**spoiler alert** If there's one thing that makes my blood boil and my skin ripple with creepy crawlies, it's a story that disrespects real suffering. For me, this was one of those. Even though it started off really well, the second half majorly crashed and burned. Think there are two stories of suffering in this series: the teen-angst romance and the story of genocide and grief. This was such a huge fail for me in the way the grief story becomes an afterthought so the teen-angst romance can get back in the spotlight. This story is about how attraction to a hot guy molds a girl and changes her fibers, defines (in some undefinable way) who she is, and grief is something that, while uncomfortable, passes like a bruise. I think the opposite is true.
Murder and the Manic Pixie
I googled "genocide statistics," and these are the numbers the internet came up with for me:
Armenia: 1,000,000 killed from 1915-1923 China under Mao: 58,000,000 killed USSR under Stalin: 20,000,000 killed (Robert Conquest, The Great Terror) Holocaust: 5,700,000 killed from 1933-1945 (Nuremberg Trial) Khmer Rouge (Cambodia): 1,600,000 killed between 1975-1978 Bosnia: 250,000 killed from 1992-1995 (U.S. State Dept.) Rwanda: 1,000,000 killed in 1994 Somalia: 300,000 killed from 1991-present (IRIN, a UN agency) Darfur: at least 450,000 killed from 2003-present (UN High Commission on Refugees) (http://www.urbanministry.org/wiki/gen...)
It is kind of interesting that when we talk about war and genocide, we round the numbers so cleanly. We shove individuals off the statistics because one million makes a catchier number than 999,876. Or, maybe, we just estimate because it's not possible to even know how many people died. It is certainly not possible to estimate how many survivors have been broken by genocide, not to mention the lives broken by racism and sexism, the slightly more chill siblings of genocide.
Chris Hondros, Samar Hassan, 5, screams after her parents were killed in Tal Afar, Iraq
I understand why Stalin’s regime romanticized and justified genocide, and the same with Pol Pot, Hitler, and Mao. Propaganda is useful when you are clinging to maniacal power. And as Eddie Izzard says,
We think if someone kills someone, you go to prison, that’s murder. You kill ten people, you go to Texas, they hit you with a brick – that’s what they do. Twenty people, you go to a hospital, they look at you though a small window forever. And, over that, we can’t deal with it. Someone who’s killed a hundred thousand people . . . we’re almost going, ‘Well done! You killed a hundred thousand people? You must get up very early in the morning! I can’t even get down to the gym.’
About this book, though . . . we see a lot of genocide in the world . . . and it seems disrespectful to me to romanticize a genocidal warlord, whether it is for the purposes of propaganda or for the purposes of a YA fantasy novel. Pushing Akiva’s choices onto the Emperor, or whatever he was called, just doesn’t ring true to me. You kill the people you kill, even if someone else told you to. And I’m not saying that books for a younger audience can’t talk about genocide. The Gregor the Overlander series blew me away when it went into genocide. Truly amazing. This book, though, was a whole book full of manic pixie dream girls dabbling in genocide and then gazing at each other.
Even the dudes in this book are manic pixie dream girls. And it’s like, you know: genocide just gets so monotonous and tiring after a while. Genocide ennui is so now. You kill and kill, and at first it’s fulfilling, but then you’re like, “this really isn’t getting me laid the way I thought it would, even though I got these eyes of fire and a dreamy widow’s peak and, like, shawls fulla moth-birds I picked up at Hot Topic.”
Then, you gaze across a crowded battlefield at this girl, and she’s all, “OMG, all I want is hugs! And I know you (view spoiler)[killed my whole family (hide spoiler)], but I’m pretty sure it was just because you loved me sooooo much!”
And then her wise, exotic nanny is all, “Honey chile, you just gotsa go get yo man! He only (view spoiler)[killin’ ev’yone you loved (hide spoiler)] ‘cause he’sa grievin’ fo you. If you go back to him, maybe it will bring peace ta tha whole wide universe and tha moons’n stars.”
Really? . . . Really?! It kind of highlights how convenient the resurrection convention of this series is. It’s okay that he’s a mass-murdering fuckhead! We’ll just bring the people we cared about back to life, and no harm done!
Now, I love Romeo and Juliet. I love it a lot. When I was in college, my genius roommate used to convince guys hanging out at our house to perform the balcony scene with her as a comedy. The play makes this wonderful, sad-clown comedy. Juliet is a crazy person, wanting to pluck Romeo back to herself like a little bird on a string, bwuhaha. Romeo is a self-centered ass, in love with the idea of being in love and bragging about his girlfriends to his buddies. It is kind of hilarious, especially set to the backdrop of the plague breakout in Verona, which gives some perspective to the childish dramatics of our couple.
I have also seen one completely earnest, sad, beautiful production of Romeo and Juliet. The actors playing the couple were living together in real life, and they had this palpable spark between them that made the star-crossed fate truly tragic. The lighting was intimate, like the production in Slings and Arrows once it turns beautiful (here at 2:50) and the couple was still dumb and cursed, but I may have teared up a couple of times because they were beautiful and hopeful.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone caught elements of both comedic and tragic readings of Romeo and Juliet perfectly. The real tragedy in either reading is that the story of these lovers can only exist within this window of time. It can only exist with the suicide at the end. Like any romantic story, it only works if the sun sets at the appropriate time. Otherwise, you start to realize that he snores, and she chews too loud. He says all his sentences as a question; she can’t ever remember to put the cap back on her toothpaste.
Or, worse than snoring, as Taylor so beautifully showed in Daughter of Smoke and Bone, he has the capacity in him to commit genocide and kill every one you ever loved. It is beautiful because that changes the entire game; it changes the entire person he is. He is not the person dreaming of peace and respect for all creatures. He is the person killing them.
“Or is he?” Days of Blood and Starlight asks in its backwards bulldozing over the beauty of the first book. Maybe he was super provoked and it was okay that he killed and betrayed everyone because he was like, really, really sad. Awww. Poor little mass murdering fuckhead. He was so sad!
Romance and Grief
So, the thing that bothers me in the fallout in this book is Karou. This story assumes Karou's devotion to this dude, into whose eyes she's gazed for like twelve seconds, would be a strong enough feeling to overcome her grief for her family.
It creeps me out when women in real life blindly stay with men who make them feel terrible. It says something to me about the degradation of the soul. I think that plenty of smart and interesting women do that, but it is at its base a creepy choice to me. But, then, nothing in this story built up to Karou for that type of creepy choice, so her actions and feelings for Akiva just made no sense to me. There was this idea that it could be noble to go back to someone who made you feel the worst you could possibly feel. It’s not romantic, but it’s also confusing.
It also makes no sense to me because romantic feelings (especially early, fiery romance) are like a delicate collectible unicorn figurine, and grief is like a jackhammer. Sometimes romantic feelings can’t survive someone’s table manners and overuse of the word “absolutely,” and it is beyond me to conceive of a situation, aside from being creepily insane sufferer of Stockholm syndrome, where romantic feelings could survive the murder of one’s whole family.
Other Miscellaneous Complaints
Am I wrong, or did all the hand-burning on the doors stuff happen when Karou was seventeen? But, I know Brimstone made her a baby because she has memories of her childhood, and it’s never indicated that they are false. So, like, this book is trying to tell me that Akiva was the nicest guy ever, and dreaming of peace, but then he did all of the hand-burning stuff in reaction to seeing Madrigal get killed? But, he just waited seventeen years to express his heat of passion genocide? That makes no sense.
Also, if the hamsas work after you cut off a hand – so they have some kind of magic of their own aside from the soul inside of the body – why didn’t they just burn hamsas into the outside of the walls of Loramendi? Further, how did the whole group of angel soldiers stand around holding the hamsa hands without also accidentally hitting each other with hamsa magic? Dumb.
And why be such an asshole to Ziri, book? Why be such an asshole to the ONLY actually badass character in this entire story? WHYYYY????
Overall, I often don't agree with that advice to writers (I think from Faulkner) to "kill your darlings," and I feel like writers often misapply it because they have something to prove. But, in the first book, Taylor so boldly worse-than-killed Akiva by revealing him to be a mass murdering fuckhead. Trying to resurrect his character by romanticizing what he did felt cheap and disrespectful in this one. Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, like Akiva, all had motivations for their mass murdering, but they were not romantic motivations. It is not romantic to commit genocide or kill your girlfriend’s family. It is not romantic to make another person feel terrible. It’s not romantic to want to make out with a guy who killed your family. It just isn’t. ______________________________ I got a copy of this book from a friend, and nobody paid me anything to rip it to shreds with the crescent blades of my keyboard.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Yay!!! This was just what I wanted. This was like a cone of shaved ice on a hot day by the pool listening to a mix of one hit wonders. Yay!! I feel liYay!!! This was just what I wanted. This was like a cone of shaved ice on a hot day by the pool listening to a mix of one hit wonders. Yay!! I feel like I didn’t realize it, but one of my goals for vacation was to stay up till three in the morning with a fun adventure, and this was just the thing. 3 a.m. read: check!
There is such a deluge of young, energetic girl writers, writing women who struggle with their stoicism and strength and have supportive, emotional male counterparts, and I absolutely love it. It is like we hit this stride of girls saying, “Hey, sure, I could write a book and tell you how I see the world and what I want from it. Why not?!” And then publishers are publishing them! Wahoo! And, I know you are as little shocked by this as I am, but it turns out that girls do not always see ourselves as emotionally irrational, sensitive weaklings and men as muscly douchebags. And I really like the simple, somewhat symbolic way it looks at the complexity of emotional control and physical violence. I could not be more pleased. Goodbye stupid, boring old propaganda, and hello new, fun counter-propaganda!
Huh, now that I've read a couple of other reviews of this, I have to say that I'm surprised by people's criticisms. It seems like many people have taken issue with the fact that Katsa doesn't like dresses and see that as some kind of condemnation of girls who do like dresses. I have to disagree. I love seeing awesome girls like Buffy and Elle Woods, and the girls in Snooki's book, who love shopping and pink and are also smart and capable. But, I don't think it is condemning of girls to show a girl who does not love shopping. While I have to say that Katsa's take on marriage is almost word for word how I see marriage, I don't really feel like Katsa, or any female protagonist, needs to be the definitive image of what all women should be. Some women think marriage sounds awesome, and others don't, and I don't feel like Katsa being wary of marriage because of her resistance to control is a judgment on any of the women in this book or in real life who are in favor of marriage.
It kind of weirds me out to see the big reaction to that. I think it weirds me out because I do not care for shopping and marriage sounds awful to me, but most of my friends love shopping and/or are married, and I don't like to think me having a different opinion somehow undermines them. Anyway, I love seeing stories where girls are fun and strong and love shopping and marriage, and stories where they don't, because girls are not all the same about those things. It kind of bums me out to see this book criticized for ideas I feel represent my thoughts and preferences.
On the down side, this story is admittedly somewhat derivative, but not in the creepy way that Cassandra Clare is derivative, mostly in a fun way. There is a definite X-Men feel to me about the premise of the story, I kept accidentally reading the heroine’s name as Katniss, the trip over the mountains seemed so Aliens, and the ending is Jane Eyre. But, what awesome stories to borrow from!! Such a great mix.
Also, this book knocks the Bechdel test out of the park. Out of the park! Katsa’s interactions with all of the women were so beautiful and humble and natural. I loved them. I had a little bit of Bechdel concern early on because of Helda, but ultimately I think she is a great character, too. It feels natural for me for Katsa to face a lot of pressure to get married and have babies, even from really wonderful friends, because let’s face it, you do. And including the character of Helda gave Katsa such a graceful opportunity to define her own life instead of listening to even someone she loved.
When I was in seventh grade, I would read books with a couple of friends of mine and say, “It was sooooooo romaaaaaaantic!” And then we would laugh for like fifteen minutes, the way you do in seventh grade. I can’t really explain it now, but we thought it was hilarious to say that. Or, I did at least. Anyway, this book definitely would have made it on my soooooo romaaaaantic train, but it still presented a really healthy model, in my evaluation, of loyalty and love without control and ownership. Definite swoon. Plus, a guy with tattoos: how can I resist?
Also, I loooooooved that Raffin was Katsa’s sassy gay friend! Because girl needed one, and he was so great at it! And he totally was her sassy gay friend; don’t tell me otherwise. But, what a subtle, wonderful way to show a loving, sweet gay couple without sort of exploiting them for PC points. I think, anyway. I mean, I know the book didn’t dive fully into what it would mean for Raffin to have to get married, and it would have been great to be more explicit about it, but I still think it showed them really sweetly.
While I have to say that I love Blood Red Road more than this, and I think this is somewhat comparable to that, I did still love this. I just think the writing in BRR is brilliant and Saba’s voice is so unique. This was more straightforward, and probably an easier read for people who struggled with the dialect in BRR. But, mostly, YAY for all of the messages about women and girls defending ourselves and not bowing to control and emotional manipulation! So smart. I think this book could be to a seventh-grade girl audience what Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is to an adult male audience in terms of messages about confronting hatred of women. And I say again, YAAAAAY!!!! _________________________ I received a free copy of this book from the library. In return I promised to pay my late fees....more
Q: if you could edit this book, what would you take out? A: the words.
. . .
Have you ever had an eight-year-old kid try to describe to you winning a leQ: if you could edit this book, what would you take out? A: the words.
. . .
Have you ever had an eight-year-old kid try to describe to you winning a level of a video game? Have you ever had a middle-aged man try to describe to you completing the games section of the New York Times? Did those experiences involve multiple conversations like this:
“What is the maze?” “Stop asking so many questions!”
I have to say that this book was more boring than having someone tell you in painful detail about winning a video game or finishing a crossword puzzle. It is more boring if only for the constant, "What are you talking about?" "No! I won't tell you!" This book is astonishingly boring. I know that I am predisposed not to like it because there are no female characters (no, I do not count the leggy, blue-eyed girlfriend as a female character), but, really, I ask you: are there any male characters either? If you say, yes, then I challenge you to prove it. Are Mario and Luigi and Princess Toadstool characters in Mario Kart? What about the ducks in Duck Hunt? Are they characters? We have to draw the line somewhere. And I submit to you that there are no characters in this book. Or, at least, there are fewer characters in this book than there are in Duck Hunt.
Also, a couple of things that bothered me throughout:
1. What famous scientist was Minho named after? Okay, I just googled that and apparently Dashner “purposely” named a few characters after scientists who will supposedly exist in the future. Like the only Asian kid in the book. Because there are no Asian scientists today that he could name someone after. *facedesk* And like Zart. Zart and the Asian kid were not named after scientists. *double facedesk*
2. Why can’t the grievers climb over the wall? They obviously can climb. But not over the wall? Did I miss this? At first I thought the kids were in some kind of dome, but then it seemed like it was just a really tall wall. . . . That it was impossible to climb? WHYYY?????
3. What purpose does the telepathy serve? None is the answer. It serves no purpose.
4. Why is this book so, so, so long and boring?
So, maybe a third of the way through the book, I developed this false hope that this book would be some kind of pretty metaphor for children going through the grieving process and supporting each other in loss. I thought, “Oh, grievers! Maybe the challenges of the maze and the bonding of the boys in the glade will have some larger message.” No. This book is not about that. It is about doing the NYT games section and then maybe vague talk of zombies later. Total bullshit.
I have to think this book came out while LOST was still on and before its terrible conclusion, which forced millions of Americans to face the fact that when it looks like a story will have no purpose, it probably has no purpose. I have to think Dashner thought he could bank on the millions of us willing to suspend our skepticism and keep watching a show whose writers clearly had no plan. I am hoping that in the wake of that disaster, we will have grown up a little and be less willing to stand for bullshit like this.
I googled it, and, yes, I was right. Cashing in on gullible LOST audience. Unacceptable. ...more
This manual is about attorneys working with clients who have experienced domestic violence, and it has a lot of good advice, but might not be particulThis manual is about attorneys working with clients who have experienced domestic violence, and it has a lot of good advice, but might not be particularly relevant outside the area of law. Probably all attorneys should read it, though, because you probably encounter abusers or domestic violence survivors in your work. I worked at a clinic that represented survivors of domestic violence in getting restraining orders against their abusers. It was a great experience. I think women who leave abusers are real-life super heroes, and I am just in awe of them. People ask why women stay with abusers, and I think that is such a weird question. To me, a better question is, how anyone would have the self-possession and humility that it takes to leave her whole life behind, reconcile herself to friends and family who will hate her for disrupting their world, and start an entirely new life? That is truly remarkable to me, and there are millions of women everywhere, who we see at the grocery store, the mall, living under bridges and running giant corporations, who have that super-hero combination.
I’m going to talk a little bit about domestic violence, and a lot of what I’m going to say comes from this manual, but some of it just comes from my own thoughts about seeing tons of women be abused all throughout my life and seeing a small handful of super heroes stand up for themselves. I’m going to break my thoughts up into sections just because of the sheer impossibility of talking about this subject with any kind of brevity. The sections are entitled as follows: Leaving an Abuser, Being an Abuser, Gender and Abuse, the Law, Getting Help, and Helping. Choose your poison.
Leaving an Abuser
I get why women stay with abusers. I get why women stop talking, stop working, stop feeling and fighting and crying, and disappear. It is presumptuous of me to say that I understand those things because, really, I probably don’t understand them in the way I can never understand someone else’s experiences and heart, but what I’m trying to say is that it makes sense to me. It is logical. When women stay with abusers it is not because we are deficient or stupid or, the coward’s lie, because we want to be abused. We stay with abusers because we are smart and survivalists and often that is all that is left for us. It is not easy to get blamed for the way standing up for ourselves disrupts everyone else’s lives and expectations of the world, and that is what most survivors face if they try to leave.
Even with small arguments, many of us have told women, “I agree with you, but maybe you should just apologize to him anyway, or maybe you should just not tell him he’s wrong, because, you know, he’s sensitive and you made him mad.” How much more likely are we to question a woman when standing up for herself means saying that a son, or brother, or friend we love is such a coward that he needs to abuse the people he says he loves? Unfortunately, it is easy to react to women leaving abusers out of our own conflict averseness, rather than trusting that sometimes conflict leads to something better, or at least more brave and honest, than the status quo – rather than trusting the woman. It is easy to talk about a woman standing up to a faceless stranger, but that is never who she is standing up to. I think it takes someone specially strong to leave because she is not just leaving one person, but friends and family who are very unlikely to thank her for the conflict she’s “causing.”
The other thing I do think, though, is that most women do have a super hero in them and the ability to leave. It is a terrible thing to have to do, but not impossible.
Being an Abuser
I think I get abusers, too. They’re fucking crazy douchebag cowards. What’s not to get? And I'm sorry to talk about you or your sons and brothers and fathers and friends that way, but I think abuse is by definition crazy, douchey, and cowardly. But, I can see how you'd be generally a good person and be that at the same time. I get that you grow up being abused, abuse becomes normal, and then you’re too cowardly to change the cycle, so you justify treating the people around you like shit. Or, worse, you grow up with a narcissistic sense of entitlement and you think that gives you the right to treat people, usually women, like your slaves. People do not abuse because they drink or do drugs. They might use drugs and alcohol as an excuse to abuse, but that is not why they do it. No one acts the opposite of how they feel when they are drunk. They might act weird or silly, or exaggerate their normal characteristics, but they do not do the opposite. And if all someone needs is to be slightly less inhibited in order to start hitting other people, that person needs some serious help – and not help that comes in the form of the people around him being super apologetic and understanding.
Shameless plug: Caris’s book, The Egg Said Nothing is a completely brilliant look at the psychology of being an abuser. I love it.
Gender and Abuse
According to this manual (based on statistics from 2000), 1.3 million women and 834,000 men are physically assaulted, and 25% of women and 7.6% of men are raped, by a domestic partner in their lifetimes. While those statistics are slightly outdated, statistics consistently show that women experience abuse far more frequently than men, are less likely to report it, and have far more difficulty getting out from under abuse. That is not to say abuse is worse when perpetrated by men. Abuse is an ugly wart on the face of an abuser no matter what gender that abuser comes in. Often, it is difficult to provide services to male survivors of domestic violence because victims’ services offices so frequently see men coming in to complain about how a woman’s face hurt their knuckles. But, providing services to men is very important, too, and no one deserves abuse.
Even though it feels like there is shame, as a female or male survivor of domestic violence, in reporting abuse, there really is not, no matter what people say to you. There is shame in being an abuser, but that shame does not transfer to the abused. And, it is usually true that someone who has been abused has made mistakes, or even been mean, in a relationship. It is usually true because most of us have done those things. But, that does not mean that you are in the wrong or deserve to be abused. No one deserves that. You could be wrong most of the time and mean most of the time, but you do not deserve to be abused.
One of the biggest reasons, to my understanding, that women stay with abusers is that we don’t realize that what we’re experiencing is actually abuse and that the law, even, sluggish and nostalgic as it is, recognizes what we’re experiencing as abuse. Countries have different definitions of abuse, and within the United States, the states have different definitions of abuse, so check your state laws on this. I’m going to give you a couple of examples of circumstances that are usually abuse, though.
Obviously, if your partner hits you or hurts you physically, if he wasn’t acting in self-defense, that is abuse. Self-defense is, for example, if you swing to hit him and he holds your arm to prevent you from hitting him. Self defense is not if you do something he doesn’t like and he hurts you to teach you a lesson. That is abuse.
If your partner forces you to do something that you don’t want to do by threatening to hurt himself or another person or you, that is abuse. I have known a lot of women in relationships like this, where a partner will threaten to hurt or kill himself (or herself) if the woman leaves, or hangs out with friends, or gets a job, or what have you. The thing is that if someone is going to kill himself because you are trying to live a happy life, he’s probably going to kill himself anyway. The other thing is, he’s not going to do it. Of the people I know who have threatened this, both men and women, exactly zero have done it when they’ve actually found themselves alone. Exactly all of them, instead, have gotten on the internet and found someone else to abuse. Don’t worry, the new victims can figure out how to leave, too.
If your partner forces you to do something you don’t want to do by breaking your things, hurting pets, or withholding money or food or shelter, that is abuse. You are probably getting the point that people don’t get to control you or hurt you, and you don’t get to control them or hurt them. And usually, the law protects people from that. If you feel like you might be experiencing abuse and you don’t have someone you trust to talk to about it, you can google “domestic violence shelter” or “domestic violence hotline” in your city, and you can call them. If the people you talk to don’t believe you, or they try to control you themselves by making you do something you don’t want to do, including leave your abuser, you can tell them no. Most likely, they will just listen, though, and let you decide.
If you live in the U.S., and you think you are going to abuse someone in your household, please call 911 instead. They will help you avoid abusing people. Another option if you think you are going to abuse someone is to visit the website www.thehotline.org, or call 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224. If you have survived abuse and you are ready to not be abused anymore, those are also good resources for you, though your local hotline and women’s shelter might be able to provide more immediate services.
If you experience abuse and you don’t feel like you can leave because you don’t have money, there are people who can help you with that. If you don’t feel like you can leave because it is too hard to abandon your old life and start a new one, that makes a lot of sense to me. But, it is probably still worth it. If you don’t feel like you can start a new life because you don’t think you are strong enough, I can practically guaranty that you are wrong. Life is a struggle, and it is always a fight to look for happiness, but it is worth it. Standing up for yourself doesn’t mean yelling or hitting or breaking things or controlling other people, but it can mean starting a new life.
Actually, I’m sure all of us know a lot of people who are in violent relationships. And there are a lot of things that everyone can do to help them.
If you are worried about a friend who is in a violent relationship, be a good listener and don’t say judgmental things about people who stay with abusers. Don’t reprimand women who stand up for themselves about small things because it perpetuates the idea that women should not stand up for themselves about big things. Don’t reinforce the idea that a survivor is weak for staying because it is probably factually and observably wrong. And when women believe the lie that they are too weak to leave, that helps nothing.
If you see people being abusive, it is okay to respectfully tell them they are wrong. I do think that abusers are typically weak people, but that doesn’t justify the abuse, and the pity you feel for them does not make their actions okay. Abusers are adults, too, and regardless of the mental illness or history of abuse that might have led to them abusing, they deserve the respect of honesty. They deserve the respect of other people telling them they are wrong when that is true.
If you have excess energy from worrying about a friend, use it by volunteering at a women’s shelter. Those places are so amazing.
And, if you are a woman, stand up for yourself if you feel disrespected. If you are a man, I am making the sexist judgment that you are already standing up for yourself on a regular basis, but if you are not, you should too. People are usually not so fragile that we can’t handle respectful disagreement, and if we are, then we will get used to it.
So, this is so long, and about a book that probably five people have heard of, and I fully expect no one to read this review. But, that is fine. I also realize that it might be entirely unhelpful to post this information here because if you are in a seriously abusive relationship and the words "protective order" show up in your browsing history, no good will come of that. So, don't forget to erase your browsing history if you need to do that.
I guess I am acknowledging that I am mostly writing this selfishly. It was pretty emotionally exhausting to work in this clinic with women who have been told for so long that it is not okay to disagree with men that they need constant affirmation that, to the contrary, it is absolutely right for them to stand up for themselves. I do not blame them for feeling like that at all - I feel like that for sure - but, it is nice to rant for a little while. Abuse is bullshit, imo, regardless of whether it comes in a physical, emotional, spiritual, economic, or other form. I hate it. I don’t think people should whisper about it as though it is a shame for the survivor. And if the abuser is too fragile to handle confrontation, that is just too fucking sad. He’ll have to find a way to grow a pair....more
You know, I think after talking to a couple of people about it, reading a couple of reviews, I can see better why someone would like these books. I amYou know, I think after talking to a couple of people about it, reading a couple of reviews, I can see better why someone would like these books. I am not a girl who cares for The Wings of the Dove, so I cannot understand this particular preference, but I can observe that people have it. I guess that there is something about vague wordiness that is attractive to some readers, and, you know, I can see how that is a thing. Maybe it is like black licorice. Like, it is objectively disgusting, but some people like it. ;-) I kid! I kid! . . . mostly. Anyway, I would not say that I have a particular problem with Ms. DeStefano’s vague wordiness, actually, but it is my impression that, for some, this characteristic redeems the absence of character development, plot, and understandable world building in her books. So, there’s that. I will tell you what I do have a problem with, though, but I feel like I need to move to a new paragraph at this point, so you are going to have to be content with no snappy thesis sentence in this review. It’s the DeStefano way!
Ahh, yes. Much more comfortable. Soo, anywhoo. In one of my Intro to Lit classes in college, I had this lovely professor who advised us that whenever we read anything, we should ask ourselves who wrote it and what his or her agenda is. This is how I read books, and because I value direct communication, I probably base a lot of my opinion about a book on how clearly I can understand who wrote it and what the agenda is. (I am not using agenda as an insult. I think we all have agendas. Maybe “message” is a better word, but in books, I think they would mean the same thing.) How does the book present the world? What does it normalize? What does it question? Sometimes this is a more complex issue than others – for example, in the Uglies series, while Scott Westerfeld seems to try to say superficiality and self-mutilation are bad, I think he really does more to normalize them. Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden series is another difficult one on that front.
First, I guess I’ll talk about figuring out who the author is, and then I’ll get to talking about the book and its messages in a minute. Ms. DeStefano is a twenty-seven-year-old woman whom many have mistaken for a teenager. Maybe, in some ways, that is not a bad thing from a marketing perspective because it makes her more relatable to her audience. Otherwise, infantilization bothers me, and it bothers me when women play into it because I think it is usually manipulative, but I guess I don’t feel too strongly about it compared to the other things that make my head explode about this series. What I actually want to talk about are Ms. DeStefano’s choices in dealing with her position as an author in the midst of reviewers, so you’ll have to forgive me for the digression or report me to the authorities if you wish. I guess I’ll put that digression at the end, so you can choose to read it or not. It’s kind of loooong, and probably nobody cares at this point anyway. My main thought is that when authors, and Ms. DeStefano is certainly not alone in this, publicly react to reviews from an instinctive emotional place and make reviews about their feelings (or even when they privately contact reviewers in this way), it really comes off as a show of strength to reviewers, even if the author intends to be benevolent.*
So, anyway, about this book. It makes The Lord of the Rings look like a fast-paced, action-packed, breathtaking ride at blinding speed through a roller coaster of plot. Meaning, nothing happens in this book the entire time. Gabriel is still a cardboard cutout of UR boifriend with blu Is. Rhine swoons I don’t even know how many times. The damn candies (view spoiler)[are the key to the disease, just as you expected (hide spoiler)], and there is a drop-in mute, disabled, possibly autistic child who serves no purpose other than to . . . no, she serves no purpose. She scampers A LOT. On. All. Fours. And there’s one part where she hangs upside down from the back of a bus seat, and I’m not totally sure what the logistics on that are, considering the size of bus seats I’ve encountered, even compared to the size of babies.
But, aside from the offensive drop-in disabled puppymonkey child to make everyone look cute (or eeeevil, depending on who you are), we also remember that smart kids still can’t have voluntary sex with someone they like, but since kids must have sex, they have to stumble into a sex trap. So, Rhine and Gabriel fall into the grips of an eeeeevil brothel owner who for some reason talks like a Russian villain in a cartoon. She pumps them with aphrodisiacs and they do the deed in a cage in front of an audience (I think – this is never totally worked out a la Wings of the Dove, and I was left with the feeling that they were just making out, even though that doesn’t really make sense). So . . . that happens. It is voyeuristic and disempowering. Not, like, they would have wanted to have sex, but you know. The aphrodisiacs made them do it. This continues the image presented over and over in these books that women cannot want sex just for its own sake, but either must want it for some unhealthy ulterior motive or be forced into sex. It also continues the image that women cannot say “no” to sex and actually have people listen to them.
Then, after the aphrodisiac cage and some other hijinks, (view spoiler)[Rhine winds up back at the mansion because no one realized that tracking devices are a thing, and the statutory rapist from the first book is like, "UR rong, I never hit U! UR tearing me apart Lisa!" And then she finally, after NOT FINDING HER FREAKING BROTHER THE WHOLE TIME (because, let’s be reasonable, it is difficult to find people when you have to swoon all the time) sees her brother on TV, and he’s sparin’ for change on the street in front of a news camera, like you do when they’re going around shooting everyone in a dystopia. AND SCENE (hide spoiler)]. Probably the main issue I have with these books is that I feel like they are saying nothing in a direct way, but doing a lot to normalize a sense of female victimization. Ms. DeStefano takes on the voice of trafficked child prostitutes, and then she does nothing to give them actual humanity or strength. This is a topic I have studied a little bit and really care about, so painting trafficked girls as boring, shallow waifs is offensive to me. I guess I don’t have much else to say about that.
I think I’ve said this before, but another thing that strikes me as odd in this book is that the statutory rape is treated as, well, you know, kids will be kids, but medical testing is painted in a weirdly ambivalent way. Rhine’s parents did it, so she is in favor of it, but it is also painted as the most evil thing in the book. I am confused about the book’s position on this, and that ends up adding to my overall boredom because ultimately I don't really care one way or another what the position on this is, I'd just like to know what it is.
I still cannot give this book one star because, even though it was probably objectively worse than the first one, and even though Skye O’Malley had panthers on leashes, which is AWESOME no matter how you look at it, Skye had a child being raped by a dog, and this book did not. So, Fever gets a freebie star for that. If you are not working on a bestiality-to-no-bestialiaty scale, though, this book is mostly pretty boring. I mean, this book is boooorrinzzzzzzzzz.
And, here’s the thing, you can get offended at the fact that I thought your book was boring, and that I think it normalizes rape, if you want to, Lauren (if you don’t mind me using your fist name). But, I’ve been told my writing is boring and wrong and what have you on the internet, and it is just a person’s opinion. And in this case, the person who called you boring has way less power than you do (see below for more on this). And I also do mean that to be constructive criticism, even if it doesn’t come off that way.
Ultimately, it is probably a pretty simple fix to make the next book less boring. You do a lot of telling and not showing. You tell us, for example that Rhine is an Aquarius, so she is unpredictable, but I have not yet seen her be unpredictable. I have seen many, many Aquariuses be unpredictable in many, many unpredictable ways, but I have not seen that from Rhine. I have seen her romanticize her surroundings, as a Libra like yourself might do, but I have not seen her be unpredictable or witty like an Aquarius might be. Also, you indicate that Gabriel wants to protect Rhine and Linton is in love with Rhine, but I have not yet seen them express anything other than not wanting other people to touch her. My understanding is that they do this because she has two different colored eyes, which makes her special to them. That is perplexing to me. If you could say less and show more about why they would like her, it would help me out.
Speaking of her being an Aquarius, I feel really bad that I am releasing a negative review right before Rhine’s birthday. But, since I am pretty convinced someone lied about her birthday, and she’s actually a Libra, I’m going to go ahead and wish her a happy fake birthday and release the review. Happy fake birthday, Rhine! I hope rehab is very successful for you and that you grow a pair!
* I was actually thinking pretty seriously about author/reviewer interaction on goodreads.com for a few days before Ms. DeStefano let us know what she thinks our dark, 4chan corner of the internet. Her posts, and her subsequent behind-the-scenes attempts to regain favor with readers obviously did make me think more about the circumstances of author/reviewer respect, though, so I am going to talk a little about it here. Author/reviewer interaction is, perhaps, the most over-discussed topic in my entire world right now, other than, maybe, the topic of charging real costs for public records requests, but that is an entirely different boring story. So, I am definitely apologizing for wasting your time by adding my voice to this ridiculousness, but I feel compelled.
I guess, you know, I’m in law school, and that’s definitely part of who I am as a reviewer. I spend most of the day arguing, in a mostly non-personal way, with people who have different opinions than my own about almost anything you can think of from furniture to rape to the prison system to licorice. And I think, for the most part, goodreads tends to interact in a similar way. We present our opinions and tell our story, and then someone tells us that we are a fat, lesbian, Rachel Maddow-lookalike, tiring elitist, and someone else thanks us for our opinion and story and says it changed their life, and then we all go back to our realities. I’ll not say that I haven’t had my feelings hurt on goodreads, but who among us has not been hurt by those we love? So, I might be wrong, but I think I can see what Ms. DeStefano is saying when she says it is difficult to read a negative review on goodreads. This is another thing, though, that I observe to be true, but do not necessarily understand. I guess, I like it when people disagree with me, so we can work out our ideas, and everyone can grow and become better through talking and thinking. I even think it’s funny when I get an angry troll who corrects me and says my writing is garbage. My feelings get hurt, on the other hand, when an authority figure steps in to reprimand me for expressing my thoughts.
So, that is where I am going with this. It is my impression that some authors do not realize that by the very nature of getting paid for their writing, they carry a certain amount of power within the writing community as far as everyone else is concerned. They are the trustees of the school, the investors in the project, and when they show up, the kids had better be on their best behavior. I have seen loads of wonderful author/reviewer interactions, but still, when the authors show up, there is a hush. Maybe this is sad sometimes for authors, and I can definitely see why Caris chooses not to embody his author profile, but ultimately I do not feel bad for these poor little rich kids. As reviewers, we come on this website because it is what we do – our fingers love to type, we tell stories, we love and hate books, and we love to write. And we get reminded constantly that we are not as good as published authors. I am not trying to claim some kind of nobility for it; I am just saying that we are all writers, but for those of us who are not paid to write, those who are paid for writing have a certain amount of power.
So, I guess my point is that whether an author intends it to be this way or not, stepping into a reviewer conflict can feel like a show of strength to reviewers. It can feel more threatening than a normal trolling. Even if you mean to say, “Oh hai! Conflict is a bummer!” it can feel to a reviewer like, “I am talking to other published authors about you and how you hurt my feelings and how they should not support your writing.” I am writing this in the second person because Ms. DeStefano is one of the authors who has made it clear she is monitoring reviews, but she is among many, and I think it is a potential learning moment for many authors and reviewers who have suddenly run into each other on these internets. I give major kudos to authors who can show up on a review and just validate what people are saying without trying to make it about that author's emotions. I also give major kudos to authors who can step away from the computer when they need to. It bothers me when I see authors do the opposite, whether they do it behind the scenes or in public.
As reviewers, we give good reviews and your book sells; we give bad reviews, and your book sells. But, you complain about us, and sometimes our writing disappears, and that is how we know where the power lies. As reviewers, most of us have had our writing, bodies, sexual orientation, political views, and grammar choices questioned and criticized, too. But, that is part of the fun and part of the nature of writing. I know that you, and other authors, have said that you do not want to stifle reviewer reaction to your writing, but when you make it clear that every sentence we say is life or death to you, it comes off as a show of strength because you have power over our writing and we do not have power over yours.
I received an ARC of this book from a book blogger friend. Thank you!!!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A wise woman, while brushing her hair demurely in front of a mirror, once mocked another wise woman saying, “Remember that time I wrote a book with aA wise woman, while brushing her hair demurely in front of a mirror, once mocked another wise woman saying, “Remember that time I wrote a book with a conceptual spoiler?” Well, Laini Taylor, I now picture you in that room with the other wise authors chatting each other up about your conceptual spoilers. Because, holy shit. How do you even talk about this book?
I’ve been marinating in it for a couple of days, while getting caught in apocalyptic electrical storms, losing luggage, stumbling around airports and homes and streets trying to get ready for school to start. In the midst of this busyness, I’ve been letting the story sink into my brain, but really I keep coming back to the fact that all of this story, the whole crux of the character development and plot of the entire thing, is in the last, maybe, three pages of the book. That may sound bad to you, but I’m telling you, it’s completely genius. That’s just my opinion, but it’s true.
The first page of the book says, “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.” And that lovely beginning, a thesis really, which tells you the entire story in two short sentences, echoed through my head the entire time I was reading. Well done. Just masterful. That is the way you should give away your story.
And I’m not saying that the 400-whatever pages that precede the pivotal last three aren’t enjoyable – they are absolute fun and action packed for the most part. They were strangely ordinary, though. When you read the book, you’ll laugh that I said that because they are very un-ordinary looking in most ways. But, there is a lot of furniture and clothing and staring-into-smoldering-eyes and yearning for completeness, and other things u see in ur romance novels. After Lips Touch, which is three sharp kicks to the gut, the meandering descriptions and sudden brainless passion were weird. I still think there could have been less “their hearts were so one that they didn’t need to communicate with words” business. Like, you know, “she knew by his sideways glance that he had eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich earlier, gotten heartburn, decided to drink a glass of water, and then felt better, after which he watched TV for a little while and then took a walk.” I mean, at some point, the silent communication of soul mates is just not entertaining to read. Even after the last three pages, I think you could have cut some of that, but I could actually be dead wrong. Maybe you need all that to get to the end. Anyway, it was so worth it to me when I was done.
Also, the clothing and furniture were good. Like, usually, everyone’s walking around in damask and chemises, or, like, jean skirts and velour jogging suits, or whatever, and it’s itchy and boring. And all their furniture is so uneventful. Here, I kind of wanted to know what Karou’s furniture was like and what she was wearing that day. Plus, blue hair is almost always a good idea. I had blue hair for a while, and it was very pretty. I’m sure Karou’s is, too. It might be petty, but I think it’s worth a wish.
The other . . . criticism? . . . I have is that I’m not totally positive who this narrator is. Taylor wrote the book in a very distant, omniscient third person, but that raises some questions for me because the narrator is obviously from Earth and American. The dialogue is American slang, even though, when the characters are even on Earth, they are in Prague, speaking Czech. Also, the devils in the book are part human, part animal. But . . . the only logical conclusions from the way the characters discuss the devils is that Earth is the reference point for their species. For example, a half-human, half-wolf dude is called that. A hummingbird with moth wings is called that. But, if you only grew up with a hummingbird with moth wings, and you had no reference-point in Earth, would you know that it’s wings belonged to something else? Wouldn’t you get to earth and say our hummingbirds are weird? So, at certain points, when characters were staring into each other’s eyes, I got to thinking about how the narrator is this teenage American girl behind the curtain. I just wanted her to out herself and be like, “I’m off shopping at a thrift store on weekends,” so that I could orient myself to the source of the story. That is over-analyzing, I know, but there were narrative pauses to think about stuff like that.
I loved how this book undermines. I love the fantasy and romance mythos that it breaths and destroys. I love that it looks straight in the face of what angels and devils could be, what they are, and what love is, in a cultural sense. I agree, but also disagree, with Taylor about one of the fundamentals of her world, but that is kind of a spoiler – I disagree that (view spoiler)[the source of magic is pain (hide spoiler)]. But, in the way that magic is commerce in this story, and the way that is just factually true of industrial capitalism, I have to agree with Taylor. It is not a lecture in the way she presents that reality, but it is fundamental to the story in a respectable way. And I am left, days later, turning that fundamental over and pondering both sides of it.
So, you are obviously going to read this anyway, but I am here to tell you that I think you will not regret it. It’s got style and action, and then a kick to the gut in the end. Some of you will get hives from the middle of this book, and some will get hives from the end, and I think that is because the story is luring and elusive, but, really, only because it is actually being rather brutal the whole time.
I read an ARC copy of this, and it was lovely although the cover leaves something to be desired.
P.S. Ethnocentrism is no good, kids. Don't try it at home.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
One of the nice things about YA novels, and also one of their faults, is that they, almost universally have the skeletal feel of a story resting solelOne of the nice things about YA novels, and also one of their faults, is that they, almost universally have the skeletal feel of a story resting solely on plot. You’re almost never going to have a moment in a YA novel where you have to stop because the beauty and subtlety of the writing is too much. This is not absolutely true because I’ve read coming-of-age novels, and those probably count as YA, where I have had to put down the book for its beauty, but these genre-type stories are usually a rush of plot – kisses, deaths, revelation, and identity discovery. Divergent is no exception to that, and I have to say I like it for that. I like that type of story, even though it is not exactly beautiful or subtle. I kind of want Roth to go back and fill in the characters and dwell on the moments and even take out a few fights if she needs to in order to make the ones she includes more potent.
But, ah well. It’s still good.
There is one part in the book where Four says to Tris that another character, a sweet character, was cruel to her because he wanted her to be weak and frightened, but she was strong instead. I thought that was such a lovely thing to say. It was a brilliant way to explain violent cruelty, and I thought well done. You know, it is such a cliché in action stories for the characters to remind each other ask, not whether they have the guts to do something violent, but if they want to be the person they will become as a result of it. I thought this book did it well, though, and that it is an important thing to ask. Like, don’t ask, do you have the guts to kill, but do you want to be a killer. While the book addressed the idea of violence being cowardice pretty straightforwardly, it didn’t feel maudlin, and I liked it.
It was kind of funny the way the factions were set up in terms of good and evil, though, and the message felt very small-town American conservative. I think, actually, there is a note at the beginning that Roth wrote this while she was in college, so maybe her hatred for intellect is more bitterness about doing homework, but it felt very Republican “army good, college bad” at a lot of times - both Salvation Army and the military. But, then, with piercings, so more badass. And then there was the “If only they’d return to the founding documents” message that seemed like a good idea for them, but is troubling if we want to extrapolate it to American politics. Maybe I’m just mad because I for sure think that ignorance causes the most problems in the world, so I would probably be in the Erudite faction, and I DON’T WANT MY FACTION TO TURN EVIL!!
Anywho, it was a super fun read, and I read it late into the night. I thought the relationship between Tris and the boys was great, and all the characters felt like I could fill in actual characters, even though they were just skeletons. It has a lot of factual similarities to Harry Potter, but a spirit of its own. Really fun....more
In some ways, maybe, both love and destruction come to us, seek us out, and we are powerless to pursue or avoi (Painting of Swann, by David Richardson)
In some ways, maybe, both love and destruction come to us, seek us out, and we are powerless to pursue or avoid them. I tend to think that is not the case, but I am often wrong, and I am too willing to make grand pronouncements about life to be unwilling to be called wrong. Or, as my friend says of herself, I am never wrong because if I hear an idea that is better than mine, I change my mind to that idea, and then I am right again. Anyway, in Swann’s Way, Proust writes a museum of love and, the other side of love’s coin, abandonment, of comfort and loneliness. Every human relationship in this story is linked to some form of art, and I think the narrator gestures at this when he says,
If only Bergotte had described the place in one of his books, I should, no doubt, have longed to see and to know it, like so many things else of which a simulacrum had first found its way into my imagination. That kept things warm, made them live, gave them personality, and I sought then to find their counterpart in reality, but in this public garden there was nothing that attached itself to my dreams. (p. 565)
There is an inevitability to all of these art/human interactions, as though what is pre-written cannot be resisted.
I am going to talk in spoilers in this review, I think, but my own personal read of this story held most of it to be largely predictable, and purposely so. The beginning of the story is the end, and the end of the story is the very, very end, and all of the telling is wrapped up together. I don’t think I’m going to hide the spoilers, then, because the narrator tells you early on what becomes of M. Swann, and then he develops it carefully and delicately so that you know just how it should be told and how he has seen it unfold. It doesn’t seem to me that what I have to say will ruin any of it, but I like to come to books fresh, so I respect that, and if you feel the same, now is the time to exit.
Proust’s characters see life translated through books and paintings and music. In that way there is a sort of self-reflexivity in the story, but also something that feels resonant today. If we have seen it done before, if someone has recognized it before, we can do it ourselves. For example, the narrator’s Oedipal relationship with his parents comes to a peak (sorry) just before his mother’s censored bedtime read-a-loud of Francois le Champi. The narrator then develops a passion for the invented author Bergotte, and when the narrator learns that M. Swann is personal friends with Bergotte, he thereafter sees the Swann family through a Bergotte-colored monocle. He falls in adolescent love with them, the way he is in adolescent love with Bergotte.
Swann, likewise, uses art as a touchstone for life. Like men, or really both men and women, now, often justify a woman’s beauty, not by their own preferences, but instead through some expectation that Heidi Klum and Jessica Alba are the framework of beauty, Swann acknowledges a women’s beauty by association to painting. Swann’s kitchen-maid can be beautiful because she is Giotto’s Charity:
He finally reconciles himself to Odette’s beauty when he realizes she looks like Botticelli’s Zipporah from The Trials of Moses:
M. Swann’s very relationship with Odette becomes embodied in the little phrase from M. Vinteuil’s sonata. We ironically know from the story of Combray that M. Vinteuil died of heartbreak at least in part, presumably, because of his own “intense prudishness” and in reaction to his daughter’s lesbian tendencies – ironic, obviously, because M. Swann’s deepest disappointment with Odette is that she has ever been with a woman. Towards the end of Swann in Love, I kept picturing M. Swann's relationship with Odette as Love the Way You Lie. I wonder if the sonata sounded like that.
Swann handed over his preferences regarding beauty to painters like we hand over our preferences to movie producers and modeling agencies. M. Swann reconciled himself to owning Odette as a mistress while they both slept with other people, but if Odette slept with a woman, that was betrayal. Today, we can handle adultery, abuse, marital rape, and bride purchasing, but if gay people get married, that will undermine the institution. People never change.
Or maybe we change, but we change as individuals. This book made me love Proust. I think he captures all of this with the awe of adolescence and the cynicism of adulthood. I also love him because he reminds me so incredibly of one of my best friends from school. My friend, whom I am calling Marcel below because, you know, privacy, matches his polo shirts to his argyle socks every day. He is always on gchat, and some of us were planning to start a blog where we posted our gchats with him because we think they are so hilarious. Anyway, I am posting some of them below because I think they are how a modern day Proust would be. In our first year of law school, a lot of people thought that Marcel was a snob. But, I don’t think he is. Or, technically, he is, and his snobbishness might stand out more because of his money, but aren’t we all snobs about something? He is a snob about BMWs, and I am a snob about coffee and middlebrow literature. So, when people say Proust is a snob, I’ve started to feel a little defensive because, sure, but aren’t you? He is also sweet and witty and shy. And has more weird allergies than anyone you’ve ever met – or at least my friend does. Seriously, who is allergic to lettuce? But, now I am mixing up my Marcels. And, oh Marcels, why do you get so taken in by other people’s rules about beauty? If you think a girl is ugly, think she's ugly. And if you like her anyway, like her anyway! But, don't get so taken in by other people's ideas and expect them to be universal. But, ah, you do, and I love you anyway.
Some cattleyas for the bitches:
And the Marcel gchats (keep in mind that this person is like twelve years old):
Day 1: I'm including this one because it is probably Marcel's favorite, but I also really love it.
12:49 PM Marcel: our sea of whirly twirly lamps is a little too organized right now
12:50 PM me: i was thinking that too
12:51 PM Marcel: much better
1:17 PM Marcel: Rosamond wants me to be facebook friends with Octave and his girlfriend so she can creep on them that makes me uncomfortable
me: yeah, don't do it she will regret it later too
1:18 PM Marcel: i don't think i'm much of an enabler anyway i mean i wouldn't want that on my resume or anything
1:19 PM me: yeah, i hear firms look for "passive aggressive" before "enabler"
1:20 PM Marcel: i'll have to work on that then i'm not sure i'm good at being passive aggressive unlike some people...
Day 2: This is really more expressive of him as a person.
9:40 AM Marcel: this dude in front of me in admin law spends his time in class looking at assault weapons on his computer all class
9:42 AM me: whoa that is not good who is the dude?
Marcel: disturbing Albert something 2L
9:43 AM me: ohh, Albert Bloch?
Marcel: that sounds right
9:44 AM me: yeah, that guy is pretty weird. he dated mlle Lea all last year he's a big republican or, like, maybe just last spring
9:45 AM Marcel: crazies attract
9:46 AM me: so true
Marcel: i mean you should see the people i've attracted over the years i sadly mean that jokingly and seriously
9:47 AM me: same 9:48 AM literally, one guy who liked me went running through the streets of seattle naked because he made a deal with god that if he gave up everything, including his clothes, god would get these friends of his back together as a couple. He was a nice guy, though. 9:49 AM and, you know, that was a really good deal for god.
9:50 AM Marcel: you can't call someone crazy for believing in god joke i'm intentionally missing the point
9:51 AM me: bah dum tss
10:10 AM Marcel: i don't think i'm very comfortable with the expression that's how the sausage gets made
me: it's like "flesh it out" bad visual
10:23 AM Marcel: if norpois or cottard were in admin law i would actually skip this class but we still get bontemps so it's tempting to skip
10:25 AM me: who teaches that class?
10:26 AM Marcel: Mme. Verdurin i think i don't like her 10:27 AM but i'm not positive
me: huh, interesting i have never had a class with her, but she has always been nice to me
10:29 AM Marcel: i think she just annoys me in class and so far it has been unrelated to her red hair at least consciously
me: yeah, it is tough to separate that
Marcel: but maybe i've been seeing her red hair and just not liking her bc of that
me: definitely possible and not unreasonable
10:30 AM Marcel: i'm not sure where i picked up my default of strongly disliking redheads until i get to know them like gilberte and saint loup are great
me: true, but they might just be an exception to the rule
Marcel: fact 10:31 AM one of my business partners has red hair and i appreciate greatly when he wears a hat
me: "one of my business partners." please say more words about that.
Marcel: well one of six others 10:32 AM they're certainly not all redheads
10:33 AM me: "business partners." please say more words about that.
10:34 AM Marcel: Beta Cascade Ventures, LLC we're an investment company with focuses on philanthropy, education, and networking
10:38 AM me: huh 10:39 AM that is very 1% of you
10:40 AM Marcel: our logo is a sailboat
me: o m g
10:41 AM Marcel: i'll have to show you sometime...more
Possibly this was my favorite of the Tamar series. It is lovely how this series gets better and better. I had to go back and give them all five starsPossibly this was my favorite of the Tamar series. It is lovely how this series gets better and better. I had to go back and give them all five stars just because they don't drop off and get terrible by the end. This one has hokum and euphemistic professions and an evilly helpful girl, and finally we meet Julia’s dear Aunt Regina (pronounced . . . well, you know). And, of course, murrrrderrrrr. I listened to half of it on audio, but then I was so impatient to read the rest that I sat down and read it in my room on a beautiful, rainy evening with candles and soup and peonies blooming just outside my window.
Caudwell tells her readers just the right amount of things. She’s not always going off about the wood somebody made a cabinet with, or the clothes everybody is wearing, unless I actually want to know about those things. I mean, there is that hilarious part in one of these – I think it’s in the Sirens – where Ragwort tells Julia that he thinks her dress was made for someone with broader shoulders. That gives you just the information you need to know about Julia’s dress, and it establishes Ragwort’s talent for euphemism at the same time. Anyway, the clothes and furniture and whatnot that Caudwell describes establish the characters, unlike some books, where the author is just taking up my precious time to prove she researched what the kids were wearing and storing their dishes in back in the day. So annoying.
This one also had some interesting stuff about insider trading and inheritance. Mostly, the characters were once again brilliant. The only tragedy (other than the story) is that I have no more of these to read. I will have to start the series from the beginning again. ...more
I have long been a fan of dreams: talking about dreams, working out the interweavings between dreaming life and reality. I almost scare-quoted realityI have long been a fan of dreams: talking about dreams, working out the interweavings between dreaming life and reality. I almost scare-quoted reality there, but then I realized that this review is probably going to be douchey enough as it is without adding a scare-quoted reality to it. Anyway, Ursula LeGuin’s worlds are typically not my worlds; when I’m reading her books, I tend to bump into walls and trip over furniture, where other readers intuitively know the lay of the interior decorating. And, that is just the way reading goes, I think. Neither bad nor good. Sometimes an author puts the couch were we would like to sit, and other times not. This book, though. This is the LeGuin for me. This book is lovely in a way I can understand.
I grew up in a sometimes-fundamentalist home, so for those who didn’t, this comparison might sound like an insult. Please know that I don’t mean it that way. It strikes me that in some pretty superficial ways, The Lathe of Heaven is to Daoism what Narnia is to Christianity. In making that comparison, I am really comparing two things I love, even though they are both representing two very different value systems. I think that both present an emotionally symbolic world in which the roots of a belief system can grow in a simple and understandable way. I think both do a really good job of not sacrificing story to allegory, but still forming a perceptible spiritual message.
The other preliminary thought I have is a spoiler about Heather, so I’ll hide it. (view spoiler)[It strikes me as really interesting that Heather starts out as a femme fatale, swings over to being a domestic goddess, and then winds up somewhere in the middle. I don’t have anything profound to say about that, but it did make me think about how any woman can play those parts and it would not be informative of who she really is. It made me think about how it is easy to adopt caricatures and difficult to know who we really are. It is easy to play a role, but difficult to be human. (hide spoiler)]
But, that is really only about the structure of Lathe, and what I really want to talk about is dreams. In Lathe, George Orr has “effective” dreams that change his reality. That is the basic premise that you find out at the opening of the story, and I will try not to spoil the plot beyond that. Joel was making the point that the story is a reflection on writing, which I think is an interesting, but narrow, reading of the story, and honestly was not how the story resonated with me at all. I think it is a good point, though, and worth noting. A writer re-creates the world, and in that way probably also shapes other people’s perceptions of the world. I think in many ways, though, we all do that, writing or no writing.
I guess the way the story resonated with me was more literal than Joel’s reading. I do think that any of us can have a dream in the Martin Luther King, Jr., sense, and that dream can guide culture, but I also think that literal dreams can do that, and maybe that is more where the book fascinated me. In college, I once went to sleep with no interest in a boy in my class and I woke up with a crush on him that it took me months to get over. And all that happened was that, in a dream I had that night, he looked at me a certain way. Dreams seem mysterious and mysteriously powerful to me. I had a dream like that this week, and the content of it is not very important, but there was a snake in it, and the snake was also human, and the dream changed something to me, so I thought of this book. I’m not sure what it changed, but it was just different than other dreams.
Once, in college, my best friend from high school had a dream in which we were both preparing for her wedding. About a year later, I had the same dream but from my point of view, which I didn’t realized until later that night I started describing the dream to her and she knew all of its details before I told her, but from her own point of view.
In my part of the dream, after she got married, I went to help an ex-boyfriend move his things into a new house and there was a soundtrack in that part, which is something I don't think I've had in another dream. After I woke up, I was walking to work and I put the Velvet Underground Loaded CD into my discman (I had bought it the day before). “Who Loves the Sun” came on, I realized it was the song in my dream, and I looked up and saw my ex-boyfriend sitting in front of the house he had moved into in my dream. The whole day was off, with the people I cared about in my dreaming and waking life crossing over.
I don’t have a moral or a lesson to that story, but it was an experience I had that made me wonder whether my dreams were creeping in to my reality, like they do with poor George Orr. And I do think many dreams can shape the world in a way I don’t understand, in a way that makes me small and brittle. I think LeGuin captures that literal power of dreams very gracefully, without creating a heavy-handed allegory, leaving room for many applications of the tone and texture of the story. I also love what she does with George and his therapist, and the yin and yang of their personalities, though I can't think of more to say about that than just stating it. I’m glad I found a LeGuin that is for me; I’m glad somebody wrote a story about dreams.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
In most ways, this book was absolutely written for me. It is LOST + Miss Congeniality + Susan Faludi’s Backlash. Sarah Palin and GW stand-ins make appIn most ways, this book was absolutely written for me. It is LOST + Miss Congeniality + Susan Faludi’s Backlash. Sarah Palin and GW stand-ins make appearances to be generally villainous. It has lovely, lovely girls, lots of action, and some pretty hilarious jokes. Oh, and hilarious jokes in the footnotes. (Because why use endnotes, people? No need to be coy.) There is one about putting dolls on a pedestal that is my favorite joke in the book, if you want to know. The odd thing about the book is that it mixes slapstick detachment and satire with some pretty touching, beautiful moments. Sometimes that is jarring. Sometimes the girls are caricatures of social stereotypes, and other times they are breathtaking hope for the future. It was difficult for me to transition between the two, but in general, I really loved both moods of the story.
So, this is not going to be a fair review. I’d say it’s even going to be borderline hypocritical. I did a lot of sputtering about a feminist critique of Bridesmaids because WTF, people, does everything have to be the ideal feminist mantra? Sometimes a story about girls is just a story about girls. The tough thing about this book is that I feel like it was making some pretty purposeful feminist statements, so I think it opened itself up to more criticism because of that. It’s not really fair that I feel that way, and I found the things it did really thought provoking, but the book’s going to get some extra scrutiny over it.
First, I love Mary Lou. I love love love her. Even though I will not get over my bitter disappointment about pirates this easily, I love her story. I think the writing is electric around her. I love her.
I love the other girls as well, but Mary Lou is special. I think each girl in the story represents overcoming some kind of stigmatized female experience. Maybe Mary Lou’s experience was more real to Ms. Bray because I found it absolutely vivid, where the others seemed researched. In the way that all the girls are reactions to misogyny (and by that I don’t mean sexism from men. I like how Bray is clear about how women perpetuate misogyny, too.) the story made me a little sad. I always look for those beautiful female characters who are not reacting to anyone, but just being wonderful in who they are. I like seeing women who aren’t putting on a show. I think it would be easy to compare these girls to Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, but I really think Elle remains herself throughout the movie. She doesn’t have a moment where she turns on herself and says, “Oh wait. I am an idiot because I care about pretty things.” That is who she is in the beginning and it saves the day in the end.
I also love how Adina talks about girls looking to romantic relationships for self-definition. If someone desires us, it makes us desirable. It makes a relationship more than it is, and something it shouldn't be. I love how she identifies it and says that it is not how she wants to be.
A few things that troubled me, though. This book starts with the premise that a girl would only do pageants because of a social or emotional disturbance. As the story unravels, the girls reveal, one by one, the social or emotional wounds that led them to be in the pageant. I don’t know how I feel about that assumption. I like the idea that pageant girls can kick ass, too, but I don’t love the idea that being pretty is the sign of psychological disturbance. To be fair, on a few occasions, Bray does very consciously make the point that it’s okay to like being pretty, but the assumption is still there, underlying the whole book.
The other premise that shows up in the book is that girls need an island to overcome what we're socially trained to be. That's more of a thesis of the book, as Penny very correctly points out. I'm not totally down with that idea either. It has this kind of hopelessness, like culture is so entrenched in unhealthy expectations for girls that there is no room for real girls in culture. That idea bums me out, and I don't think it's true. There is an Awakening quality to it that I hope strong female writers get past, and that I think some have gotten past. We are here! The world is for us too!! Don't give it up, girls, and retreat to your own private islands. I mean, I love The Awakening and I love The Yellow Wallpaper and The Bell Jar, but I think there also needs to be room for girls in culture. There need to be elbowing and kidney-kicks to people who try to tell girls that the world isn't for them. I don't think floating away to an island is the answer for girls becasue it is aka suicide, for those of you who are not up on your hopeless women writers. And that is not the answer.
Anyway, back to the girls. I don’t want to spoiler who all the girls are for you, because some of the reveals are pretty fun. None of them are surprising, but they are pretty fun. Unfortunately, I think that the way the girls end up is really important to the way I’m looking at the book, so I’m going to hide a little bit of my discussion of it. I’d really say go read it for yourself before you read my spoilers because what I’m saying will probably get into your brain in a way that will make your reading of it less fun. So, come back once you’ve read it, and we’ll discuss.
(view spoiler)[It was a little troubling to me that it seemed in the end like the girls mostly settled down, had two and a half kids, and then drove them to soccer practice. (I know only one really did the soccer thing, but I feel like that idea was there for a lot of them.) It was just a little anti-climactic.
But, Adina and Taylor actually really made me sad. I am reading this book Motherless Daughters – because that is what I am – and it is a devastatingly poignant book for me. Those two girls are the motherless daughters in the book (Taylor from physical abandonment, and Adina from emotional abandonment), and it made me really sad that they were still so lost at the end of the book. I know there is a sort of power in the way they are lost, with Taylor as the jungle queen, and Adina refusing to sell her soul for emotional affirmation from men. Still, though, they made me sad. They were that stigma of the motherless daughter, the thing we can’t talk about because it is too devastating. What if all of our mothers left us? It doesn’t seem fair to me to think of those girls as being unable to emotionally connect with other people in a sane and mutually giving way.
And Shanti and Nicole felt a little funny to me in that way, too. The book goes into how marginalizing the token ethnic friend thing is, but just because you’re recognizing it doesn’t mean you’re not doing it yourself. It was just slightly uncomfortable. I mean, those girls were lovely, and I really like them, but I felt like, rather than be the sassy ethnic friend, they were only a reaction to the sassy ethnic friend. They didn’t have much more dimension than that.
Jennifer and Petra were a little better than that, I thought. They both had more humanity and specificity, even thought they were so purposely put in the book so that there would be one of each. I’m okay with that, though. Again, I liked the girls. (hide spoiler)]
It’s tough because there were a lot of characters in this book. It was difficult to give them all humanity and depth, I’m sure, and so some worked out better than others. There were a couple of points where, if I had put the book down for a little while, I would come back to it and forget who Miss New Mexico or Ohio were. There was a lot going on. Still, though, it was really fun and funny, and tear-jerky at a couple of points for me. It will definitely not be a five-star book for everyone, but I had a beautiful day out in the hammock reading it, so it is giving a halo to the experience. Also, as I guessed from the moment I first saw its cover, I am the intended audience for this book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I had a dream the other night that there was a word a person could say that would end the whole world. I have a great awe of the power of words and thI had a dream the other night that there was a word a person could say that would end the whole world. I have a great awe of the power of words and the power of dreams, and here they converged. And, after all of the violence of wars, injustice, prejudice, resentment, and misplaced passions, I turned to a friend and said, “Now is the time. Say it.” She said the word, and the earth was engulfed in pale yellow mushroom clouds. And then I woke up.
I know what that dream was about, and it is really nothing to do with this book, other than the resonance of the idea that there could be this single deadly beauty or murderous pleasure, unbearable to humanity. In my wondering about a word or a dream that could change the world, I think there is something similar to that idea as it is in Infinite Jest of the deadly power of pleasure, the video or the scientific stimulation that kills.
Otherwise, I think if my father were to have written a book, or if we were to go back and compile the group emails he sends out, they would look something like this. You would have to substitute some kind of seminary for the tennis academy, but otherwise you could have pretty much left things the same and you’d have the stories of my childhood. That did not endear this book to me.
Rather, that part in To the Lighthouse where Mrs. Ramsey reads The Fisherman’s Wife to James kept running through my head: “Nothing would make Mr. Ramsay move on. There he stood, demanding sympathy.” There he stood, demanding sympathy: sympathy for the evils of commercialism, the evils of addiction, the evils of entertainment, the evils of having and not having pleasure.
I have heard from many people that drug court is the most successful program in the Oregon court system. Defendants sentenced to drug court have to regularly check in with the courts and describe their progress, go through treatment, and attend meetings. Apparently, it is far more successful in actually treating addiction than incarceration has ever been. I have observed drug court a couple of times, and the judges who conduct it are very sympathetic a la Mrs. Ramsey. They congratulate the defendants for a morning clean, for not using in front of their kids, for merely being honest when they used that morning in front of their kids. They remind defendants how valuable they are as people, and how staying clean helps everybody around them. Defendants spend a couple of nights in jail when they can’t manage to stay clean, and they can be revoked from drug court, but mostly the program is about rehabilitation and sympathy. I can’t handle it. I’ve threatened a worker’s comp claim for the carpal tunnel to my eyes from listening to defendants whine about every possible thing a person can whine about. If you have read this book, you can imagine the type of thing I’m talking about, but I listened to one woman cry and cry about something to do with having bought a horse and the amount of time she did or didn’t have to ride the horse at the stables her mom was paying to care for the horse. I absolutely see the value of drug court, and I even more clearly see the value of my bad attitude staying far away from it.
I think my problem is that I don’t have a sense of pity. My theory is that in order to be a whole person, you should have a sense of selfishness, empathy, sympathy, and pity, and I am lacking in the pity. I used it up when I was too young, listening to these stories at my father’s knee. And, from me, it would not be sympathy, but pity, that the book is asking. I have my own problems and fuck up in my own ways, but the cartoonish quality of the troubles in this book don’t inspire the sense of identification that exists in sympathy. I imagine that very few people lose their parents to microwave and snake-in-a-can deaths, so while I have lost my parents, this book is asking me to look at its clownish loss, alien from mine, and say, “You poor thing. What suffering. Can you even imagine?” Or, it is asking me to somehow laugh at these Yoricks as sad clowns, and I don't really have the schadenfreude that is the other side of the pity coin, either. So, this book stood there for the two and a half years it took me to read it, and it demanded pity, a thing I do not have to give.
But, in that two and a half years, I will say that some of these stories weirdly and vividly imprinted themselves on my brain. Last year, one day, I was talking to my friend in the halls at school about some liability issue, and I said, "Oh that reminds me of that case we read in Torts. Do you remember it? It was about the kids who would go down to the railroad tracks and compete to see who could jump across the tracks closes to the trains. But, then, a lot of them lost their legs through the game and they became a sort of gang in wheelchairs." My friend looked at me like I was crazy because of the absurdity of that story and said he didn't think that was a case we read in Torts. It took me the entire day to remember that I was thinking of Les Assassins des Fauteuil Rollents.
As a matter of just the writing itself, I would say this experience felt to me like having Vince Vaughn yell the thesaurus at me. I like Vince Vaughn, but this was a little much, Vince Vaughn yelling the thesaurus at me, demanding pity.
Probably, though, if there were a word that could end the world, it would be here in this book, and I did not find it, so that is a mercy....more
This book makes so little sense that it was almost painful to read. Admittedly, I finished Blood Red Road about two seconds before I picked this one uThis book makes so little sense that it was almost painful to read. Admittedly, I finished Blood Red Road about two seconds before I picked this one up, and it has the same basic premise, but is one of the best books I’ve ever read. They are both post-apocalyptic and about twins cruelly separated, trying to find each other. I wasn’t going to mention the twin thing because of karen’s unreasonable prejudice, but I’m kind of okay with people being prejudiced against this book because it sucks. Not even just with the unfair comparison to Blood Red Road. It kind of sucks on its own, too.
So, you’ve got this pretty complicated post-apocalyptic society here, where they’ve solved cancer, but now all the girls die at age 20 and all the boys die at age 25. (None of this is really a spoiler because it’s all background that you learn fairly quickly and that has no real connection, as far as I can tell, to the actual story.) Also, somewhere along the history, somebody destroyed all of the continents except North America . I’m no scientist – I’m not even a fan of science – but even I could tell you that none of that makes sense. I don’t really want to hear arguments from the peanut gallery about how technically you could destroy all of the continents and not throw the earth off its axis or some shit like that. It just seems weird to me, and the author did not convince me otherwise. And I know there are hints that the continents are not actually destroyed, but what I’m telling you is that this is a serious issue to me, and I would have appreciated it if Lauren DeStefano had spent less time describing bubble baths and party dresses and more time telling me whether in the future there will be continents.
I guess that’s my main problem. The post-apocalyptic garbage was extraneous to the story, which, surprisingly enough, was basically about polygamy and babies. (I know, I can’t get away from the polygamy topic.) This story could have been set in the present day and it would have made more sense.
That reminds me of another of my many beefs with this book. It is so annoying to me when something is set in an alternate reality, and then a character is like, for example, “What you’re saying reminds me of ‘Halloween,’ which I have obviously never experienced myself, but I know about for some random reason.” Dumb. Stilted.
I was on the Kendwa beach, on the north coast of Zanzibar, when I hand-wrote most of this review in my travel journal, and I made a note here that I was a little drunk. But seriously, I had been reading this book off and on for the whole week and hating it all the way. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s a book about pregnancy, polygamy, and bath salts, disguised as a post-apocalyptic adventure. Here are a couple of ways that it could have been re-written to make more sense:
1. Lose the post-apoc business and make it a story about contemporary polygamy and child brides. However, whether the story featured me or a man, this would require that the polygamist actually be culpable in acquiring the brides (or grooms), rather than just being a lovable idiot, but I’m in favor of that anyway because the lovable idiot thing totally offends me.
2. Focus on the post-apoc business, but drop the polygamy nonsense. It makes zero sense that a society dying like flies would be collecting brides for the rich and shooting the rejects. But a society dying in its twenties could be interesting with an entirely different story.
I could continue. This book is ridiculous. The bad guys are unconvincing; the good guys are morons; the twin thing was irrelevant to the entire story. I know it’s setting up for sequels, but even the idea of a sequel, considering the way the book ends, makes me crazy. Other than being a really helpful guide for me in my future concubinage endeavors, this book is pretty useless. If, however, you want to read a book about a bunch of idiots eating candies that turn their tongues colors, then giving birth and being judgmental about lactation techniques, this is the story for you.
______ (A friend gave me this as an ARC to read while I was in Zanzibar. Thank you, friend!!!)...more
!!!!! This book kicks my ass. Moira Young has gotta be the Beatrix Kiddo of y/a writers. She comes in here, probably blindfolded or some such, turns t!!!!! This book kicks my ass. Moira Young has gotta be the Beatrix Kiddo of y/a writers. She comes in here, probably blindfolded or some such, turns the conventional rescue story on its head, and then writes it all out in solid, beautiful dialect because that’s just how badass she is. The effortlessness alone is enough to make me think we’ve arrived in some new country of storytelling. Suddenly, we’re in the middle of it, and I didn’t even realize the tour bus could go there.
I don’t even want to talk about all of the incredible women in this book because the telling of it is so nonchalant and so free from politics that it seems a shame to freak out about it. Even though it does make me freak out. We should have been talking about women like this the whole time. These girls are so legit. They talk to each other like girls talk. They kick ass the way girls kick ass. They are smart, but they’re not trying to throw it in your face. They’re just incidentally as cool as actual girls.
I won’t tell you much about this book because I don’t want to spoil all the transitions from one kind of beauty to another. I don’t want to spoil the easy absence of agenda, the genuine relationships, or the well-timed action.
As I said before, this book kicked my ass, so I’m still in the fetal position, spitting blood and reflecting on the wussiness of my life and writing. However, I will pull myself together enough to reflect that, aside from being a post-apocalyptic story about how to be a sister and how to be a woman, this book is incidentally also about power and slavery.
Don’t get me wrong, though. This story is not allegorical in the way the Hunger Games is. (I really don’t want to compare the two books, though, even though they are somewhat similar. The comparison really annoys me because I feel like it comes down to the scarcity of books with truly badass female characters. Comparing the writing would be like comparing Zora Neale Hurston and Willa Cather. Why would you? Both are wonderful and wonderfully different. It seems vulgar to compare authors only because they talk about women living in similar settings.) I am reading in a message about slavery here because, while this book contains slavery, it is ultimately about adventure, not about slavery or morality or politics.
I am studying slavery in Zanzibar right now, though, so I’m going to comment on it. Estimates say that there are about 30 million slaves in the world right now – more than all of the slaves in the 19th century trans-Atlantic slave trade. Most of them are women and children. They process our sugar and coffee and chocolate. They work in fields and in brothels and in homes. They live all around us. The Oregon State Bar estimated that in 2006, slave traffickers made more money than Nike, Starbucks, and Microsoft combined. Slavery doesn’t just exist in post-apocalyptic dystopias. And, as this book gracefully illustrates, it is perpetuated by both men and women. Young does a lovely job of showing the grotesqueness of feeding off violence and humiliation. She also shows the beauty of revolution.
My only complaint about this book is that I think the second half loses steam. Spoiler alert? There are many excellent parts still, but it doesn’t have the magic of the first half. It felt like the plot got heavy, and she sacrificed some of the story-telling to a checklist of what characters needed to die to fulfill y/a requirements. It didn’t feel as careful as the first half. I think I would have preferred to leave more unanswered questions than to tie the plot up so neatly and formulaically. **End possible spoiler alert**
I’m not sure I’m even complaining about that, though, as I still enjoyed it. If I had loved the second half as much as the first, I think this would have become my favorite book of all time. As it is, this book is still probably in my top 10.
_______ (I read this as an ARC on my Kindle that a friend gave me before I went to Zanzibar. Thank you, friend!!!)...more