“If you go at night, take a friend.” “Check under the car and in your backseat before you get in.” “I’m just s...moreWomen are raised to routinely fear rape.
“If you go at night, take a friend.” “Check under the car and in your backseat before you get in.” “I’m just saying it’s a good idea to know where the exits are.” “I got you this whistle for your keychain, you know, just so you have it.” “You were an hour later than I thought you’d be! We called the police!” “Oh, that’s pepper spray; I keep it with me just in case.” “I just make sure I get my keys out and check for other weapons if I’m getting off work late.” “Is this weird? I live alone and I’m going running, so if I don’t call you by 11:15, call the police, okay?”
A woman who fights back – no, a woman who argues at all – does so knowing it will probably make her a social pariah.
“She’s just one of those women who makes life hell . . . like a Hillary Clinton type.” “You’re different; you’re not a ball buster like some girls.” “You know that rape accusations can destroy a man’s life, right? And when she said it, did you see how she looked? I mean . . .” “All girls do is complain and nag. Not you, of course – most girls.” “But it is really women who are the privileged ones to be covered and cared for by the man; all of the responsibility for decisions are on him.” “He didn’t mean it the way it sounded, so you'll just regret it if you tell him he's wrong.” “She never understood me, and now she’s making all of these claims and trying to take practically half of my paycheck. I think she was just in it for the money in the first place.” “All I said was she has a nice rack; what a bitch.” “That’s just life; make the best of it.”
And there is good reason we are raised to fear rape, and raised not to fight back: survival. Women know that if we walk alone in the dark, statistically there is a good chance we will get raped. If we go to the wrong party, we’ll be raped. If we misread that boy next door and his swellness is a con, rape. And when a person is in a position of being systematically controlled, it often does cause more physical or emotional damage to fight back. It’s not right, but it is realistic.
It seems to me like it is the equivalent of every man being raised that if he leaves the house at the wrong time, he might encounter a woman who will strip him naked, hold him down, and knee him in the balls while she masturbates. And then in this alternate universe, these boys find out, as they grow up, that most of the men they know have had that happen to them. And I’m not trying to minimize sexual assault experiences that involve little or no physical injury, nor am I trying to minimize sexual assaults against men: no one has the right to touch another person’s body without permission. I’m talking about the way women are raised to think of daily life. Women are not raised to be afraid we’re going to get a super hot BJ that we didn’t realize we wanted, which is sometimes how I feel people talk about rape accusations. We are raised to encounter our daily lives knowing that, even if violence wasn't in our past, violence probably is in our future. And every time someone says, “Don’t go alone,” it is a little reminder that a lot of men hate us.
I have to say, though, that while I think it is realistic to say that women are raised to fear rape and to incorporate that fear of rape into our daily routine, and that sometimes fighting back makes things more dangerous, I do not believe it is effective to live in fear or to encourage women to live in fear or not defend ourselves. I think that perpetuates an idea that women are powerless, which then encourages women to freeze up when encountered with violence or even conflict. I think trusting our instincts and learning martial arts is probably more productive.
And teaching men not to rape.
That seems like the approach this book takes, though it more directly simply reflects, with appropriate outrage, on the levels of male contempt for women. And I think in that way, in the way it is directed to men, it is about how gross contempt for women is, whether it takes the form of self-absorption or sadism.
This book is smart. It is symmetrical in its execution in many ways: in starting and ending with Blomkvist’s corporate corruption story, and in the way it shows men and women accused of race whoring, men and women subjected to violence. The juxtaposition of (view spoiler)[Salander’s rape with Blomkvist’s consensual sexual encounter with Cicilia (hide spoiler)] is really well played. It is viscerally grotesque in the contrast, and it highlights the theme of consent. It was physically difficult for me to read, especially in the contrast, and I thought that made it very effective.
Salander’s character, too, is smart. She is both the outcast that women are when we fight back, and she is something of the misunderstood-bad-boy hero turned girl. I liked that. When she (view spoiler)[saves Blomkvist, it is all really vivid and heroic, but still corporeal and disgusting. I liked that Blomkvist couldn’t take charge because he was in too much shock, and that she truly saved his life (hide spoiler)]. It bothers me when a storyteller starts to let a girl save a guy, but really she only tosses him the gun to save himself. Salander gets some real action and some real credit, and it is satisfying.
Ultimately, it is pretty clear, but not laughing in your face, just resigned, Larsson knows (view spoiler)[Blomkvist is a self-serving ass, too. It was so smart at the end when Blomkvist runs into his nemesis with a girl Salander’s age on his arm, and Blomkvist so despises him for it. I like how in the end our hero really isn’t our hero. He really has only used Salander, and how far is that from hating women? It is certainly not respectful (hide spoiler)]. The hatred we condemn in this book, though, manifests as violence, and I can get behind featuring that and then fading out to Cicilia’s father condemning her as a whore and Blomkvist’s blissful self-absorption. It is a meaningful gradation. But, it is important that (view spoiler)[Blomkvist isn’t the ideal model of men being friends with women because he would be too specific – because there probably isn’t an ideal model. Larsson doesn’t justify Blomkvist’s assholery, but he is not so in love with his hero that he can’t acknowledge it (hide spoiler)]. And, aren’t we all assholes to each other a lot of the time? But not all of us get off on kneeing each other in the balls.
This struck me as a very masculine translation of male hatred of women and the way women navigate a world that tells us every time we turn a corner that it hates us. It seems like men either have considered what life would be like if they had been trained to fear leaving the house after dark, or they haven’t. And in my experience, it is difficult for men to understand a woman’s words if she tries to describe it, so I think it is important to have a man tell a story this way. I do see how the graphic descriptions of sadistic violence against women might allow a sadistic audience to read only for that, but the fact that Larsson balances this with graphic violence against men neutralizes the gender-hatred aspect of that to me. And if you are reading these books for the violence, see a psychiatrist, but I don’t think it is productive to censor descriptions of violence just because someone fucked up might get off on them. And if you think these descriptions are fantastical exaggerations, go spend some time at your local women’s shelter. Unfortunately, I think you will find you are wrong. And I don't think it does anybody any good to be afraid to tell these stories.
I hated the writing in this book a lot. Like, I hated it a lot. It both hit a lot of pet peeves of mine and it was just objectively bad in a lot of places. I don’t have a problem with books being badly written if the writing doesn’t get in the way of a good story, but here the writing was waiving its hands in my face the whole time trying to get me to lose the story. The sandwiches! OH TEH SANDWICHES! I wonder how much tourism for Sweden Larsson drummed up by the sandwich descriptions. I hope none because gag. I can see how he created the effect of an investigatory report through the writing, so, I think it is intentionally the way it is, but it was a choice I did not enjoy at all. So, overall this was a very unpleasant book to read, but it was smart, and its smartness outweighed its unpleasantness in my evaluation.
It is always kind of a funny experience to read your own words as someone else would write them. In every Willa Cather novel I have read, there has been a moment where I’ve read something and thought, “I just said that last week!!!” It was funny in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: I wanted to high five Salander all the time because I would think her dialogue right before I read it. I imagine everyone in the world has told me to read this book because of the times I say, “Oh, another man who hates women.” Or that it is bullshit to say someone had a violent childhood, so of course he had to be violent against women as an adult. So, it was funny to read somebody else say those words. At the same time, Salander felt like a man recording the facts of what he saw a woman do and say once, not like a living, breathing human character. That doesn’t take away from the smartness of the book, but it is another reason my actual enjoyment factor was low.
Also, I had to go buy pickles yesterday because reading about so many of them gave me a craving. I hope Larsson’s estate got some sponsorship money from the sandwich and pickle lobbies. ["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"]>(less)
For a long time now, I’ve wanted to rewrite my review of The Hunger Games so that I could tell you why I don’t just love this series, but why I also t...moreFor a long time now, I’ve wanted to rewrite my review of The Hunger Games so that I could tell you why I don’t just love this series, but why I also think it’s important. It is beautiful for the unflinching way it shows you, as a reader, your own willingness to disregard people who are different from you - how you are the Capitol audience. But, it is important as a story about girls. I had not initially thought about articulating that point because it seemed so obvious to me, and I am bad at recognizing my own assumptions. Lately, though, I have seen so many people, both men and women, acting as though this remarkable book is a piece of fluff that I realized maybe what I love most about The Hunger Games is not as obvious as it seems. To me, this series is important because it is a landmark departure from the traditional story about girls.
Sidebar: if you are inclined to now google the word "fleshlight," I encourage you to consult the urban dictionary definition here before doing that, as the google results will probably be NSFW and also NSF those of you whose parents might check your browsing history. Do parents know how to do that? Sorry for the sidebar, I am just intending to make an explicit point, and now I am feeling uncomfortable about what that explicit point might mean to the target audience of this book. Girls, you are probably badass like Katniss, and you are definitely not a fleshlight.
So, in all of those links, I have tried to include books written by men and by women because I think that women think of ourselves this way almost as often as men think of us this way. The link from The Ugly Truth, for example, shows both a man and a woman treating women like fleshlights. I have also included both books I love and books I hate because, ultimately, I do think girls adopt this story about themselves, and I also think we can pretty easily identify with a male protagonist and disregard female characters who look nothing like humans. For example, The Sun Also Rises is one of my favorite books in the whole world, even though it does not contain any women who resonate with my experience of humans. And I don't think it's necessarily bad that I can enjoy stories where women are only fleshlights, as long as I can still be whoever I want to be without a positive role model. I think it's good to enjoy stories and take what we can get from them, and so I don't regret that I love The Sun Also Rises.
In seeing some male reactions to The Hunger Games, I am reminded that most men do not identify with female protagonists the way women have been trained to identify with male protagonists. This seems like a huge disadvantage for men to be in, to me, and if you are a man reading this review, I would ask you to check out your bookshelves. How many female authors are on your shelves? How many of the books those authors wrote have no central male character? If you have a minute after that, check the shelves of a woman you are friends with and see how many of her books were written by men or have no central female character. Odds are the results will be pretty different.
The Hunger Games is such a groundbreaking and deliberate example of a woman’s perspective on war and family and even men that it floors me. I think it partly floors me because, other than Buffy, I can’t think of another example of a female character who really fights for herself in such an obvious and hopeful way. Katniss is strong and broken, and powerful in her brokenness. Collins’s image of a woman’s perspective is not, admittedly, as effortless as Moira Young’s in Blood Red Road, but its deliberateness has its own value.
It is not an accident that the story shows Katniss’s emotional growth and that Peeta, as a more emotionally whole person, facilitates her emotional growth. It is not an accident that the story does not discuss the effect Katniss has on the erectness of Peeta’s and Gale’s penises. The first is not an accident because in reality, men do not have to be the emotional cowards that the stories I’ve linked to above make them out to be. Masculinity does not have to mean emotional cowardice. The second is not an accident because the story is not from Peeta and Gale’s perspectives. Despite widespread rumors to the contrary, it is my experience that women pretty seldom think about their effect on men’s penises. Hopefully, we never think of our primary purpose in life, in the way so many stories think of it, as making penises erect. Hopefully, we never think of ourselves as gadgets that are super fun for other people.
There are so many reasons I love The Hunger Games series, and all of this is one I wouldn’t have initially even thought to say. I saw this Eleanor Roosevelt quote earlier this month, and it said, “It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.” I think The Hunger Games is a candle in the overall dark narrative of girls’ perspective on life. Yes, it is also a poignant critique of reality TV and Western callousness about the catastrophes caused by industrialization in the developing world, but that, too, resonates with me in many ways because of its remarkably feminine voice. It absolutely makes sense to me that this book is not for everyone because of its violence, but I still think that it is objectively important because it shows a perspective that seems authentically feminine to me – that talks like a girl, not like a sexy, fancy gadget. I’m not saying that in my opinion girls don’t or shouldn’t ever think about being sexy or erect penises, I’m just saying that it is my experience that we think and care about many, many more things than penises, clean houses, and food, and very, very few stories are willing to tell you about that. The Hunger Games is one that does, and it does so in way that is beautiful and important. (less)
I went to see Inglourious Basterds a couple of times this past month, and there is that scene where Eli Roth and Omar Doom are in the theater, and the...moreI went to see Inglourious Basterds a couple of times this past month, and there is that scene where Eli Roth and Omar Doom are in the theater, and they dress themselves up to look like waiters and then whip around the corner and kill the two Nazi guards to some funny Ennio Morriconi(ish?), spaghetti-western sounding music. And everybody in the theater laughs, and then the film cuts to Hitler laughing, watching a movie of a Nazi soldier killing Americans. It’s one of those great story-telling moments where I’m nice and comfortable and morally superior, until I realize that actually I’m exactly the same as someone I think is Evil. There was a moment when I first saw Merchant of Venice that was like that, and I was depressed for a month after I read Notes from the Underground because of the same type of experience. I don’t know where you get that brand of story-telling ability, but Suzanne Collins has it coming out of her ears, in the sort of young adult variety.
Catching Fire was maybe not as striking as the first book in this series, The Hunger Games, in making me disturbed about myself, but it definitely had its moments. Also, I was in my second week of law school and had just gotten back from an exhausting wedding when I read it, so I might not have had the capacity to self-reflect that I normally do. If you don’t know already, even though you should know, the premise of this series is a that in the future, post-apocalyptic world of the super-badass Katniss Everdeen, one rich city controls twelve poor-to-starving cities that produce all of the goods for the rich city. In order to keep the poor cities in fear, the rich city requires each of the poor cities to send one teenage boy and one teenage girl as tributes to play the Hunger Games. In the Hunger Games the kids have to kill each other until there is one survivor, who gets to party for the rest of his/her life but never really feels like partying because everything’s so fucked up. Usually they go crazy, if they didn’t start out that way. It’s very Lord of the Flies, and yes it is the same premise as Battle Royale, but not as determinedly nasty as those two books. Also, girl action hero!
Anyway, a couple of days after I finished this book, I was spacing off instead of briefing cases, and I started thinking about the description of the capital city that controls the other cities. There is a part where Katniss and another character have to go to a party at the capital, and there are as many amazing foods as they can imagine. It’s a big party, and they’re celebrities, and everyone loves them. They have one bite of every kind of food, so that they can taste everything, but unfortunately they get full. One of their entourage explains to them that there are puke closets, so that everyone can keep eating for the whole night, and our two characters suddenly step back from the party and remember their families and neighbors, who are starving while the capital lives in decadence. I was thinking about that and how the shallow people in the capital city were just as culpable for the evil in their society as the military that imposed starvation on the cities, and then, suddenly, I realized, duh, she’s talking about me. This story is really about the global economy, and (passive, consumption-driven U.S. citizen that I am) I’m not the hero.
So, that’s about three times this month that I’ve been on the side of terrorists. I don’t know whether that means story-tellers are gettin’ pretty tricky, or if it just means I think there’s a problem with the way stuff is. Or that, like, I’m becoming a rager, or something. (FBI, if you’re reading this, JK about this whole paragraph. LOL!)
When I was working my 8-5 job last year, I started listening to some iTunesU classes while I was doing my work so that my brain wouldn’t die. One of them was given by Carolyn Marvin at Stanford, and it was called “True Colors: Myth, Magic, and the American Flag.” The premise, to summarize very briefly, was that for any culture to stay together, the culture requires a blood sacrifice. This article goes into more detail about nationalism and blood sacrifice. She really convincingly pointed out how, civilized though we think we are, blood sacrifice in modern Western culture is not really significantly different than tribal human sacrifices. It’s a seriously creepy theory, but I’m not kidding when I say that she’s right. Really, listen to the lecture. So, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of weeks doing a mental compare/contrast of the U.S. with this futuristic dystopia. We don’t come off looking too good, guys.
Obviously these are really complicated topics, but nothing seems as simple as “violence is not the answer” or, on the other side of the argument, “destroy civilization.” I’m not positive what the right answer is, but I’d like to find out. I think Suzanne Collins’s books should be taught in high school social studies classes, so maybe we could get some young brains working on this problem. How do we effectively refuse to benefit from universally destructive and dehumanizing trade practices, but still live healthy and productive lives?
So, go read everything Suzanne Collins ever wrote (including the episodes of Clarissa Explains It All because that show is awesome) and reflect on international trade and the global economy. I don’t know if you’ll be a better person for it, but I think so. Maybe after you do all that reading you can help me figure out some way for us not to be Evil. (less)
I guess, sometimes our emotional bones need to be re-broken in order to set them right. Maybe this was a common experience for those who read this boo...moreI guess, sometimes our emotional bones need to be re-broken in order to set them right. Maybe this was a common experience for those who read this book, but a lot of its most emotional points were like reading a bizarre dream about the last few years of my own life. I’m not going to go into it because that would be, like, an unacceptable amount of over-share, even for me. That’s just to say that I have no ability to be objective about it. This story: real or not real?
I love Mockingjay like I love The Prophet and Catcher in the Rye, and of course anything by Willa Cather and Dostoevsky. They’re all books that have at one time or another spoken to me on such a personal and emotional level that they mean something more than writing or storytelling. That is only a personal reaction, not a recommendation. Actually, it makes me not want anyone else to read the book ever. I want to keep it as my own because I don’t want to hear a bunch of fools say they think the names are funny or something like that.
There are many threads of meaning and themes you could take from this story, but the one that strikes me as profound right now, a few days removed from my reading, is, why are we so goddamn powerless? Is it apathy or, maybe, discouragement? Are we powerless against other people or government systems, or are people and systems only symbols of our general powerlessness against the universe? Throughout this book, there is a steady rhythm of characters reminding Katniss of her power and describing her power to her.
I did some research recently about fundamental attribution error, and I've probably already told you about it, but I'm going to again. Basically, the theory of fundamental attribution error says that we think that we make our own life choices because we are tossed in the wind and the crazy, random happenstance of outside forces makes us who we are. But we think other people make the choices they do because of natural inclination. Like, someone who murders might think she did so because of an unplanned series of unfortunate events, but an observer thinks the killer did so because she is naturally a murderer. This story creates an interesting contrast between the way Katniss sees herself and the way others see her. She only sees the random events that lead her to become the symbol of rebellion against tyrrany. Others see her as the natural embodiment of the symbol. And I think this says a lot about all of us and the things we choose to do or to ignore. I think Collins would say we are powerless because we have abandoned our power, or perhaps because we don't remind each other that we have power.
There are some beautiful moments in other stories, like The House of Flying Daggers and Hamlet, where the tragedy of the conflict culminates in good friends battling each other. Nominally, they fight out of some shallow sense of vengeance, but ultimately I think it’s more the total injustice of loss that motivates them. I think they fight because if you can fight you are still alive, and sometimes that’s all that’s left. Maybe what Dylan Thomas meant when he said, "Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light." There are a lot of moments in this book that make me think of that image of friends fighting each other, but really fighting something more abstract and unconquerable. We fight, maybe, as some kind of animal scream in the face of the cold universe. But, Collins also shows how we fight because of the warm arms and kind hearts of the people we love. We fight because we are wrong and evil and stupid and cunning and loving and compassionate and fierce. There’s no simple answer.
Reading the other books in this series, I identified on a personal level with the political and cultural commentary. The way Collins held up a mirror to my own apathy and opulence was a slap in the face. This book meant so much to me emotionally and personally that I hate to pretend that my reaction is political at all. This book, to me, was the story of what happens when suddenly the person you trusted the most in the world sees everything you do as evil. I don't think I've ever seen someone write about that, and I was totally unprepared for the experience of reading it. Do you become evil because you've lost that person? Does their definition of you become your own? Do you sacrifice everything to repair the relationship? If they don't know what's real, how do you? It was so beautiful and tragic to watch that in this book, and it resonated on such a personal level with me, that after reading it I had to rebuild a lot of how I see myself.
On the other hand, I feel like it is important to acknowledge the cultural/political side of this story, and that, while this series is stylized, it is not much of a step away from reality. It, like all of Collins’ writing that I have read so far, is about adults training children to kill children. And that’s what we do, right? In Africa, the Middle East, Russia, America, in uniform and out of uniform, we train children to kill children.
I’m sure you’ve all already seen the wikileak about the American soldiers shooting the Reuters photographers and later wounding children who were riding in the ambulance coming to help the photographers. If you haven’t seen it yet, the linked article also links to the video. One of the most disturbing things to me about that video is how the soldiers laugh. Real or not real? I couldn’t watch the whole thing. When people get in fights on the listserv at school, we call it a “flame war.” Do we call it that here on GR? Anyway, a student posted that video to the listserv last spring, asking, if that video is something that we now know about, how many other incidents like this have happened and not been released to the public? That post started an outrageous flame war on the listserv, in which a couple of the military guys threatened the poster. People who I generally respect and even look up to in some ways said things like, "This is your final warning!" and argued that it is unacceptable to question people in uniform because without their sacrifices, we wouldn’t have the freedom to question them. Even aside from the circular logic, that argument just makes me go ballistic. And I think that is exactly the labyrinth of war that Collins writes about.
Everything she did here is beautiful, even, at times, poetic. I love that she didn’t glorify the rebels, and I love the image of communism she gives as much as her version of capitalism. It makes sense that she published this story in three parts, but I think it could also be read as one whole. I love her characters and her thoughtful messages. I love the way her relationships fall apart and grow back together. I almost had to stop reading this book partway through because it was too painful. But I think it was a stern talking-to that I needed. This story real or not real? For me, real. (less)
**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....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. 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"]>(less)
Well, imagine if Effie Trinket wrote a book about Bella Swan that took place in David Lynch’s brain, using as literary reference the Harry Potter series and the Uglies series.
It is bad and somewhat horrifying at the same time. And while both Skye O’Malley and this book had some creepy abuse of women and girls, Skye had panthers on leashes.
What. The. Fuck?
A friend informed me that the word SMIZE means to smile with your eyes. I don’t know if that makes me hate this book more or hate it less. I actually think it makes me hate it more. Oh my god, the mutilation of the English language in this book is pure sadism. The alliterative synonyms!!! Can't unsee.
I looked at all of the pages in this book, so nobody better give me any bullshit about finishing the damn thing. I got all the way to the miserable end.
There is a part where the chosen models go on a “catwalk,” which, in Modelland, means they walk down a hallway full of cats, which are possessed by the spirits of other models, and get clawed by the model/cats. Tookie . . .
that is the protagonist's name . . .
Anyway, her romantic interest, Bravo . . .
I can't even - the words: they are not enough for how stupid this is.
So, Bravo is always casually sticking his thumb into Tookie's mouth, and there are elaborate descriptions of how manly his thumb tastes. How does that even happen? This book is so bad.
I kind of like watching America’s Next Top Model on a marathon – or at least I did like six years ago. I haven’t done that in a while. At the same time, I am sort of left with the same feeling I get when I watch the movie Stomp the Yard - that it is not about anything. Like, the girls get weird pictures taken of them, then Tyra Banks yells at them in a snotty voice, and then people cry. I don’t totally get it. In Stomp the Yard, too, there is a set of standards that I can’t imagine is real. People jump around, and then other people yell, and it’s like, awwww yeeeeah, somebody won. But did somebody really win? What were the rules? Was there a German judge? I don’t get it. It is not very fun to watch or read something that is so far removed from my reality that it is only confusing.
At least now I know Suzanne Collins was modeling the Capital in Hunger Games on ANTM. I guess that’s some kind of redeeming takeaway.
Karen sent me an autographed copy of this, too. So, that continues to be spectacular.(less)
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 al...moreSo, 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"]>(less)
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 a...moreA 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"]>(less)
When you want to take a story that someone else has told and make it your own, do it like this. If you want to write a story, recognize your own magic...moreWhen you want to take a story that someone else has told and make it your own, do it like this. If you want to write a story, recognize your own magic, your own style, and add it to the story you want to steal. If you want to write a story, do what Laini Taylor did, and absorb the story, wait until it has seeped into the interstitial places of your writing, and give it back to your reader. Make it beautiful and true. And the only way you can do that is by figuring out what to you is beauty and truth. So many writers try to figure out what made something beautiful to someone else. They try to say, what made the Trojan war beautiful to Homer? What made Harry Potter beautiful to J.K. Rowling? And they try to imitate that. They don’t say, "What makes this story beautiful to me?" Well, Laini Taylor told us what makes these stories beautiful to her.
So, I’m a little expansive tonight. I’m a little drunk. I’m not usually one of those drunks who goes around telling everyone she loves them. In fact, I’ve been told I can recite a pretty good story while drunk, even if I don’t remember it a few months later. I usually don’t remember who I told stories to anyway, drunk or not drunk, no offense. Anyway, I just want to give this book a hug and tell it I love it. I love you, book. Like, in the full, Wayne’s World sense of the word. I love you, book. Damn, every time I write “book,” I spell it “bood.” Sorry.
I love this book in a drunk, college-high-school kind of way. I love this book like, “Wait a second, what have we all be doing, standing around fighting over whether vampires are sparkly or not?” So, it turns out there are people out there writing real love stories and fairy tales. There are people reading great writing like Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, getting inspired by them, and then writing these wonderful tributes to them.
I think, when anyone writes anything great, their ultimate hope has to be in some kind of legacy. They have to hope that their great writing will inspire something beautiful in the future, some kind of strength and inspiration. I think it is a tribute to the traditions that Rossetti, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism created that Taylor could create something as beautiful as this book. And then, hopefully her writings will inspire someone else, and the stories of goblins, hell, and eternal life will continue. It is like how Shakespeare reminded us that 13-year-olds falling in love doesn’t always end for the best. And, look, that story has continued in tradition because of him. Hopefully we will all, likewise, remember not to eat goblin fruit because of Taylor, not to doubt our own curses or our own mortality.
I had intended to talk about how some authors are natural with language, and how some authors know how to integrate a magical, traditional feeling with really modern writing. I don’t really feel like talking about that now that I am writing this. Maybe I will have more to say about that in the morning. Anyway, it’s not like Taylor tried to add a bunch of ‘ye’s to her writing, or like she tried to end everything with “e” like, unfortunately, some authors do, to give a sense of ye olde timmes. Taylor shows everything beautifully, and in doing so she shows how “modern times” are not removed from tradition and magick(e).
I like how this book is not about kisses, is not about love. When I first picked it up I thought it would be an emo version of Gossip Girl, but it is not that. It is about evil kisses, lips shutting in silence, and kisses that are sense memory. I like how this book is about loyalty and strength. I like how it is about curses. This book is beautiful, and in true, drunken or non-drunken spirit, I love it. (less)
!!!!! 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...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 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!!!)(less)
This was TERRIBLE. Terrible!!! Why are you here book??? Why do you exist?? Why do you suck SO MUCH??? Ugh!! I was listening to this while walking to w...moreThis was TERRIBLE. Terrible!!! Why are you here book??? Why do you exist?? Why do you suck SO MUCH??? Ugh!! I was listening to this while walking to work in the morning, and I’m pretty sure I was waking up whole neighborhoods with my loud, “UGGGGHHHHHHH”s because I could not refrain from reacting to what a bitch this book is. This book is such a little bitch. It is not SO bad to start out with, just your normal Anita Blake bitchiness, like, “girls shouldn’t wear pink; girls shouldn’t shop; girls shouldn’t be feminine; girls shouldn’t like boys.” And then the boys like her sooooo much because she is such an asshole. So, don’t worry, slatherings of male approval if you don’t wear pink.
OH MY GOD. UGGGGGHHHHH.
And THEN, after you trudge through Anita’s complete lack of personality and LAME sense of humor, why not throw on some racism, homophobia, and a huge helping of ableism? WHY THE FUCK NOT?? UGGGHHH. I want to punch this book in its smug little curly-haired kisser. It makes me figuratively puke.
According to people who have read beyond this book, at some point, Anita starts having sex with random monsters, which . . . whatever. I don’t even care about that because she is so obnoxiously prudish in these first two books. And, the thing is, if you don’t want to have sex with a vampire, more power to ya girl. But THEN the simpering self-congratulation about it. It makes me crazy. You suck so much, Anita Blake. You are everything wrong about anything to do with gender.
I figure there are numerous ways women can react to sexism when they realize it is there, so I’ve made a little chart to illustrate my thoughts on the matter:
As you can see, in my mind, all choices except doing whatever the fuck you want lead to a woman’s life being basically sacrificed to sexism. And this probably works the same with masculinity, too, obvs. I feel like I've forgotten another manifestation of women accepting sexism that looks almost like feminism, but I can't think what it is. And Anita Blake, all through this stupid book, is calling herself a feminist. You know she's a feminist because all the boys think she a spunky little hottie. Puke. This fake bullshit is such an easy justification for people saying they aren't feminists. But, how can you say anything is feminist that hates women and only seeks male approval? Puke.
On the one hand, I am so grateful to the women who came before me and forced people to recognize their skills and abilities so that hopefully in the future this stupid conversation will never even happen. So grateful. On the other hand, I think it is disgusting that the lives of capable women are sacrifices to either some kind of awkward attempt to be men or to a fight for the mere survival of girls because they are girls. I would consider someone like Lisbeth Salander an example of a woman who is painful to read about because her life is totally sacrifice to the mere survival of women. I don't think that's bad on Lisbeth's part, just depressing. I would consider Anita Blake a grotesque caricature of a woman trying to prove she is a man. Ugh. So uncomfortable to watch and annoying to hear about. Dude, just let girls wear pink if they want to wear pink. Pink is just a color, so dislike it if you want; but, also, pink is our childhood. And girlhood is not bad, so to the extent pink symbolizes women at our most innocently feminine, it pains me to hear women criticize it with the weight of rejecting their own innocent femininity. Again, like or dislike pink. Whatever you want. But, there is nothing noble or professional about hating the decorations of girlhood.
Aside from that, oh my god, the ableism in this book is absolutely disgusting. There is this whole section about a prostitute in a wheelchair, and Anita is like, “OH MY! KINKY! That is disgusting that anyone would want to have sex with a woman in a wheelchair!” No, you are disgusting, Anita Blake.
This is totally just a personal pet peeve, but it also really, really annoyed me the way Hamilton imagined being hardened to crime. Anita is hardened to crime here, so that means that she tosses around body parts at a crime scene and dares police officers not to puke in a room where the carpet is soaked in blood.
(Sidebar: it only really bothers her when she sees the dead bodies of children. Which, okay, I agree that it is, for whatever reason, exponentially more disturbing to hear about violence to children than adults. In a room soaked in blood, however, it strikes me as weird that she would not be bothered at all by a police officer jiggling a boob attached to a bloody rib cage, but a child’s hand would make her swoon.)
I have been privy to some pretty hilarious I-work-in-the-criminal-justice-system jokes lately, and, here, Hamilton did not even come close to what those sound like. Because they are only funny if they are respectful, if they have some kind of hope that some good will come of all of the criminal justice bullshit. This was so disrespectful. Not even close to funny. This link is totally NSFW, but it is How You Do criminal justice system investigation comedy. Hamilton's jokes are stupid, and her protagonist is stupider, and her snotty attitude about everyone who isn’t a 5’3”, 107 lb., curly-haired sprite is stupidest. Gross. UGGGHHHH. I hate you, book.
The audio reader was still good, though. I don't know how she managed reading this whole series. Voice of steel. Ugh, puke again on behalf of the poor reader.(less)
Oh my god, I love this book!! I love histories of women that make me freak out, and this one does that. This gives me goose bump...moreOH MY GOD!
oh my god.
Oh my god, I love this book!! I love histories of women that make me freak out, and this one does that. This gives me goose bumps. The descriptions of the conflict these women felt between wanting to be good girls and realizing that being a good girl means becoming a shell and disappearing are so beautiful and told so well. Povich is brilliant, and it’s clear that she has so much compassion and understanding for women who reacted very differently to the discrimination they all felt.
And look at that cover! That cover alone makes me freak out. AAAAAAAAAHHHHH. I am reduced to inarticulate babbling because of my love for this book. I love you, book! I love you and miss you! Don’t be over, book! I neeeeeed. I think this book is going to have to take out a stalking order against me.
Rather than only inarticulately freaking out, I will tell you something of what this book is about, I guess. It tells the story of the women who worked at Newsweek in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s filing class action lawsuits under the recently passed (1964) Civil Rights Act (Title VII). Mostly, though, it draws out all of this intense humanity from the internal and external conflict surrounding the women’s decision to sue and the reactions from the magazine.
It gets the sentiments from both sides so right, and it is compassionate, while still being direct. Povich starts the story with a few girls working at Newsweek in 2009 and waking up to the discrimination they were experiencing, and then it tracks back to the parallel story of the women in the ‘60s. You never want to hear a story like this told in a way that villainizes one group or another – the women or men or the advocates for racial equality, etc. – and this one so gracefully conveys nuance in the reactions from all sides. Oh my god, how is this story not well-known American folklore???
So, the women at Newsweek ultimately filed two class actions with the EEOC. Their attorneys, a pregnant Eleanor Holmes Norton, and, later, a pregnant Harriet Rabb, kicked negotiation ass. It is so painful to read men saying, “Well, we are trying to not be racist anymore. Isn’t that enough for you?” as though the main consideration of anti-discrimination efforts is to make white men better people. And it is painful to read women disappearing to accommodate society, but Povich tells both of those points of view smartly and compassionately. Of course, though, she includes Eleanor Holmes Norton responding to the men by saying, “The fact that you have two problems [race and sex discrimination] isn’t my concern.” And she also tells of the women she knew advocating for each other’s skills and abilities and truly creating a sense of sisterhood and comradery, once they dropped their mutual suspicion, that is true to my experience of women working together.
Povich is also really interesting about the interplay of race and gender for the black women working at Newsweek. Ultimately, the entire group of black women opted out of the class action because of the tension between advocacy for racial equality and gender equality. As I understand it, there has always been that pressure on black women to be loyal to race above gender, as though they are mutually exclusive. And the sense that white women are complaining about a gilded cage, while the black women experienced a dank, rat-infested torture chamber, overwhelmed any sense of identification with the white women who first thought of the lawsuit. Povich, also, though, very articulately describes Eleanor Holmes Norton’s take on race and gender advocacy, and that was absolutely brilliant to read. Oh my god, read this book.
When I first started law school, I was really surprised by a few of my women professors who were very competitive with women students in my class. I had just come from a male-dominated law firm in which women were relegated to a secretary ghetto, but most of the women in that ghetto were very supportive of each other. The more I thought about it, though, the more the competitiveness made sense to me. These women, becoming professionals in the ‘60s and ‘70s, fought tooth and nail to be where they are today. One of the professors who has been most competitive with me tells this story of how she was first in her class at law school, editor in chief of the law review, got the highest score on her bar exam, and she couldn’t find a job after she graduated because she is a woman. Women are not welcome in society. So disgusting. So, it totally makes sense to me that when society sets it up that there is room for one token woman in a company, you would turn against other women. And it is impossible for me to feel angry at a woman who experienced that kind of discrimination and successfully retained a professional status. That is incredible, and even if it has, at times, resulted in a bad experience for me, it is the discrimination, not the women, that I blame.
Every time I talk to a woman, I hear stories like those in this book. Every woman has these stories, and they are incredible. I love them. I do not, of course, love the way discrimination dehumanizes women, but I do love when it turns us into warriors and when it makes us think of the women who will come after us and hope for a better life for them.
Thank you! Thank you, Lynn Povich, for writing this book! Thank you, women, for living bold lives. Thank you for being good girls, but thank you, also, for giving up that idea for those of us who would come after you. It makes us more willing to give that idea up, too, and stop lying to ourselves about who we are and what we want. Seeing you advocate for yourselves and each other makes me feel like, I, too, can be a real human with a life and a passion. Oh, gush gush. Read this freaking book, women, if you want to hear stories of people like you! Read this freaking book, men, if you want to know about women. People, read this book!
____________ I got a copy of this book from netgalley.(less)
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 li...moreYay!!! 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.(less)
Culture imposes on women constant indoctrination of the idea that our vaginas should make us small, weak, and incapable of caring for ourselves or oth...moreCulture 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"]>(less)
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 stere...moreKristin 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.(less)
As a rule, even though I probably do it too much myself, I think comparing two books that are literally similar tends to do neither book any favors. S...moreAs a rule, even though I probably do it too much myself, I think comparing two books that are literally similar tends to do neither book any favors. So, unless you’re trying to crush something despicable in one of the books, pitting one against another doesn’t make that much sense to me. Thoughtless comparisons have ruined stories for me because sometimes something beautiful in a story is so easy to crush by association with something blunt in another. All of this preface is a warning because I am going to compare this book to another book, and it makes me nervous. This book is delicate and beautiful and inspiring, and the book I’m going to compare it to is blunt and awkward and stifling. What I want to say is that I think Breadcrumbs is in many ways reaction to this weirdly true and simultaneously deeply false culture of that odd book He’s Just Not That Into You. I don’t think I can talk about this without spoilers, so consider yourself generally warned.
Breadcrumbs is a story of a little girl, Hazel, who is on the verge of growing up, and must save her best friend, Jack, from magic that poisons and freezes Jack’s heart and turns him against Hazel. Even though grownups around her tell Hazel that Jack is just not that into her, that she should just let him go if he’s not nice to her, Hazel knows Jack and she knows something wrong is going on. More than that, she knows she can be a warrior and save Jack from the loneliness and isolation of this evil magic. So, in a lot of ways, it is delicate to talk about this book because I think if you’re a girl, and you’re Hazel, you could be completely correct and brave and self-aware – or you could be a crazy person who keys cars when boys break up with you.
There is that new documentary, Miss Representation, which I haven’t seen yet. The trailer makes it look amazing, though. It seems like it is mostly about the representation of women and girls in the media and how that contributes to us not participating in society. One of the trailer’s statistics, which has stuck with me and made me really sad over the past few weeks, is that (and I might get the ages slightly wrong here) an equal number of girls and boys under age 9 say that they want to be President when they grow up. Then, once you get to around age 15, almost no girls say that anymore. How much does that suck? It says to me that once girls reach adolescence, we realize that the world was not made for us, it was made for boys.
And I think that is one of the disturbing things about the book He’s Just Not That Into You. The underlying assumption (and even, in many ways, the explicit message) of the book is that girls are and should be insatiably driven to find a steady relationship with a boy, any boy, no matter who he is, but boys must be struck by lightning to find That Special Girl. So, a girl is a crazy person if she is patient with a guy who doesn’t want to impregnate her within the first five minutes of meeting her. (Underlying assumption being that girls should be super excited about that guy.) But, girls are just waiting around at girl factories for guys to magically find the right one, and the chosen girl will be so grateful just to be picked. The world was not made for girls: girls are just one accessory in a world made for boys. On the other hand, I do know at least one girl who is a crazy person and more likely than not to burn down a guy’s house if he’s not into her, so for that girl I think there might be a place for the creepy not-into-you message. For the rest of us, I think a more pertinent message would be, “What are you getting out of this?”
As a sidebar, I think the expectation that girls should be continually dying for a relationship, aside from being perpetuated in culture, comes from ye olden days (and ye present days) when women were not able to make money or own property and need/ed relationships for survival.
Anyway, the way Breadcrumbs deals with this is really pretty. Hazel hears all of these messages, but then she listens to her own heart instead and thinks of what she knows of her friend Jack and she believes that. Much of the book, Hazel’s encounters with a world of fairy tales, seems symbolic or even coded as a girl’s journey to trusting her own evaluation of the world and learning to be braver, and thereby more compassionate, from those lessons. I really like that, and it was so fun to picture a little girl reading the book and being scared and inspired with Hazel and the different versions of love she encounters.
But, there is still a future looming over Hazel that made me ambivalent. Hazel is 9 or 10 in the book, and I saw the Miss Representation trailer while I was in the middle of Breadcrumbs. The white witch warns Hazel in the end that someday Jack will grow up and actually reject her, and she won’t always be able to save their relationship. That’s not exactly what she says, but it is what I heard from her message. It made me think of how, when girls are children, they still want to be President, but adolescence takes that away from them: it becomes a boy's job to reject or accept a girl. Will Hazel not be able to save Jack once he is older and rejects her? She will have to just lose her friend and the most supportive person in her life then? Is it only little girls who can be warriors, and then when we grow up the world stops being ours and we are crazy people if we don’t just let our friends walk away from us? On the one hand I loved that the white witch told Hazel that, and that Hazel meditated on it as the book closed, and on the other hand, I hated it. I loved it because it is true: Jack probably will reject her again in the future, and when that happens, will it be worth it to Hazel to go after him again? Maybe not. But I also hated it because it seemed to anticipate that it should not be worth it to Hazel when she grew up.
I don’t know, maybe I have had too much time to dwell on this from not wanting to post a review because I have felt weirdly vulnerable lately and because my thoughts on this book say things about me that make me uncomfortable in my skin. I have never seen a romantic relationship, my own or anyone else’s, that I thought was worth going through what Hazel went through in this book. I’m super sorry, relationship people, because I do love you, and maybe when some dude is struck by lightning in a non-creepy way about me, I will feel differently, but I have never seen a romantic relationship that I, personally, envy. But, I have had plenty of friendships, as a child and as an adult, that I think are worth what Hazel did. And also not. I guess I like that is open ended whether Hazel would do it again, when, as I think the book anticipates, she and Jack fall in love. But it also leaves me with an unsettled feeling that there is no real answer about whether it is objectively worth it to go through all of the forgiveness and rebuilding it takes to remind a friend that they love you and should be nice to you. Life is hard, kids.
So, ultimately, I guess I like that Hazel tells the just-not-into-you people to shove it because their message does not apply to her friendship with Jack. And, I also feel a little tragically about how that message may or may not apply to her in the future – nobody knows. I guess, for Hazel’s sake, I always hope that the Jacks will be worth the sacrifices. Part of the sad thing about the just-not-into-you message is that it is universal enough for that message to become a best-selling book that friends think a romantic-interest dude is not a nice enough person to be worth a girl’s energy. What is up with that?
I spent most of my childhood riding my bike in the suburbs around Seattle. There was a hill I could speed down, a blackberry maze I could pretend to g...moreI spent most of my childhood riding my bike in the suburbs around Seattle. There was a hill I could speed down, a blackberry maze I could pretend to get lost in, a witch’s house, and a speed bump that was perfect for popping wheelies. When I was eight, though, we had to move to a farm in Oregon, and, for many reasons, it was a watershed moment in my life. It wasn’t until years later, when we had to move again, that I could finally appreciate the beauty of the Oregon farm and the jagged, friendly little mountains I could see from my bedroom window.
Eva of the Farm is a sweet story about moves, changes, and losing a childhood home, but to some extent losing the farm is a broader symbol of losing childhood. While it was very sweet, it still confronted a lot of not-sweet injustices and bitterness. Eva is a thirteen-year-old poetess who lives on an orchard her family owns in Eastern Washington. Her beloved grandma recently died, and her best friend moved to Seattle. Eva’s family learns they might lose their farm to foreclosure because of a bad apple crop, and Eva has to deal with all of the loss she faces.
The story is told as a poem, and Eva’s poems punctuate what happens in her life. At first, I thought the poem format was slightly distracting from the story, but by the end I really liked it. It expressed a certain simplicity and deliberateness about the story that I thought was sweet and beautiful. I think a larger theme of the story is Eva’s transformation from seeing life as black and white, evil and good, to seeing her own influence in the world and power over it, as well as the complexity of people’s reactions to life and how that affects our own complex reactions.
I would say the message of this story is that change is bad, but we can be stronger than change. I can get behind that. Though I have now moved many times, no matter how many times it happens, no matter how many times I lose a friend or face death of someone I love, it always seems bad and like it displaces my soul for a little while. The way Eva gathers the greater powers around her seems like good, comforting advice.
__________________________ I received a copy of this from the publisher, but I gave nothing in return.(less)