The second book in my project to read or re-read all the Judy Blume. I never read this one as a kid. It's a little dated, and the capital-M Message deThe second book in my project to read or re-read all the Judy Blume. I never read this one as a kid. It's a little dated, and the capital-M Message definitely overrides the story, but I feel like this would be a really good way into talking with your kid about racism. Because it's narrated by a little while girl, the focus is obviously on her as she tries to befriend a black family (the first and only in her neighborhood). It walks us through the process by which she learns to untangle her own racism, and it even tackles the White Savior Complex, when Winnie is more concerned with helping the Garners be accepted by the neighborhood than just being their friends and treating them like people. It doesn't do all of this perfectly, but even the stuff that doesn't quite work out would be interesting to talk about with a young kid.
The saddest part about reading this was that it was published forty-five years ago, and it's still almost as relevant now as it was then....more
It's been a LONG time since I've read a Superman comic, and this happened to be sitting next to Ms. Marvel when I went to pick it up at the library, sIt's been a LONG time since I've read a Superman comic, and this happened to be sitting next to Ms. Marvel when I went to pick it up at the library, so I checked it out. It was . . . interesting. It had the typical JMS positives and negatives. Some parts were great, and some parts were soooo not.
Actually, the last time I read a Superman comic was the wedding issue, what, back in 1997? I think that might have been the last time I read a DC comic as well . . . nope. A friend gave me some Batman comic freshman year of college, but I don’t remember which one. Anyway, my point is, I’m not SUPER (heh) familiar with DC or Superman comics, so take what I say with a grain of salt, maybe? Also, I read this during the 24 hour Read-a-thon right during my prime loopy time with a bunch of other comics, so I don’t actually remember much about it beyond main impressions.
So the story here is that after some huge thing has just gone down where Superman exceeded his limits, or went too far, got too scary and cosmic or whatever, he decides to sort of forego the superpowered life and remind himself why he does what he does. He takes a walk, from Metropolis to who all knows where, all on foot. As you might imagine, this becomes a big deal in the eyes of the public. His walk is speculated on in the press, and he’s followed from place to place. All along the way, he stops to talk with and help the people he meets. Occasionally, these are nice moments, but a lot of the time they end up feeling ham-handed and underdeveloped.
I’ll probably read the second volume just because I’m a completionist, but this book definitely isn’t an incentive for me to pick up the rest of the DC comics that are on my TBR list....more
I originally put it on hold at my library SIX MONTHS AGO. It was “on order” for five of those months. I waitedGuys, I waited sooooo long to read this.
I originally put it on hold at my library SIX MONTHS AGO. It was “on order” for five of those months. I waited so patiently. And then one day I got an email from my library informing me my hold had been canceled, because they couldn’t find a copy of the book to buy for the library’s collection. BOOOOOO. Hisssssss. So I ordered it through interlibrary loan and waited another month. And then it arrived! There was much rejoicing.
And it ’twas good.
This book concludes the initial run of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run on Captain Marvel before the ‘reboot’ with new art several months later. It also crosses over with her run on Avengers Assemble. But this is really Carol Danvers’ story. Nothing aside from character dynamics carries over from the Avengers (Carol is particularly close to Spider-Woman). What this really does is wrap up the story introduced for Captain Marvel in Vol. 2, “Down.” Her antagonist turns out to be an exiled Kree who is basically out for revenge, and doing terrible things to NYC.
As always, I must mention the art. Filipe Andrade was back for the last two issues, but luckily another artist subbed in before that so I didn’t have to sit through a whole book of that guy’s art.
The art mostly looked like this:
Very little of this:
So now I am officially caught up on Captain Marvel. The next trade comes out September 1st! I think I am actually going to buy a copy this time. It shall be glorious....more
I’m so glad my book club picked this as our next book, because reading it made me rage hardcore and I need a group of awesome ladies and mimosas to deI’m so glad my book club picked this as our next book, because reading it made me rage hardcore and I need a group of awesome ladies and mimosas to decompress with. This book was upsetting. You’re either going to be horrified at the actual atrocities done to these women’s bodies, or you’re going to rage impotently at the ineffectual, dismissive way rape victims are treated by the law, and the way our culture almost 100% stands behind rapists. Or you will have both reactions at the same time. But you need to read it.
(Unless, of course, you have trauma in your past that would make you emotionally incapable of doing so. Krakauer does describe the crimes in graphic detail, and the way the victims are treated afterwards is almost more upsetting in a lot of cases. If that’s the case, buy the book for a friend and make them read it instead.)
But the rest of you have no excuses. The only way things are going to change is by bringing attention to them. One of the things victims fight against, as is made clear in the book, is that the general conception of rapists , the facts of acquaintance rape, and victim behavior (which can seem nonsensical and illogical to juries unless the psychology is carefully explained) are so widely misunderstood by the public that the system is primed for victims to be blamed, and rapists to be excused or not punished at all. Fixing that will take education on the part of the public, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system.
In what is probably the most thorough reporting job of his career, Krakauer documents the supposed rape problem in Missoula, Montana. I say supposed because as we learn near the beginning of the book, Missoula’s percentage of rape is actually in line with the national average, so really, it’s our country’s rape problem. Due to a series of circumstances involving journalists bringing to light several cases of beloved football players accused of rape, Missoula’s taking the heat.
*He stated in interviews that he double and triple checked facts, and left some things out of the book that he was 100% sure of, just because he couldn’t find a second or third source to confirm them.
Krakauer follows several rape victims and their stories from rape to prosecution in order to illustrate how our systems are broken, and how it is affecting rape victims, their families, and ultimately, perpetuating a system that shelters the rapists, who statistically will almost all go on to assault again. It is upsetting, rage-inducing stuff.
I’ve had a hard time actually sitting down to write this review for a multitude of reasons, because the book was well-written, but it’s also so, so important. I hope you won’t just let my possibly poor representation of Missoula be your only experience with it. Missoula 100% lays out the facts and makes its case. If something is broken, we should try to fix it, but first we have to acknowledge it’s broken in the first place....more
Like most children born in the 1970s and 1980s (and I hope, the 1990s), Judy Blume books made frequent and prolonged appearances in my household. My pLike most children born in the 1970s and 1980s (and I hope, the 1990s), Judy Blume books made frequent and prolonged appearances in my household. My personal favorites were always the Fudge books. I was (and still am) a lover of scatological and body humor, so Fudge eating his brother Peter’s turtle always appealed to me on a base level. And of course, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was there to ease me into puberty and ask all the awkward questions.
I never got around to reading her adult stuff, or even that classic of teenage sexuality and banned bookdom, Forever, but when I heard that she was releasing a new adult novel, I was immediately in without evening knowing the premise, which turned out to be tantalizing. Allow me to have a Sophia Petrillo moment here. Picture it: Elizabeth, New Jersey, 1951. A series of airplanes fall from the sky over a period of about six months, traumatizing the small town and its residents.
What’s really interesting about this premise is that it’s based on true events, and what’s more, true events that actually happened to Judy Blume. She lived in Elizabeth during the year the planes fell from the sky, and one can surmise by reading this book that it’s something she’s never really stopped thinking about since.
The majority of the book takes place in 1951 and 1952, following a medium sized cast of characters. Objectively, the main character is Miri Ammerman, a fifteen year old Jewish girl who is quite happy with her life. She has a best friend, a surrogate family to go with, she loves her school, and even though she’s never met her father, she loves her beautiful mother and her uncle and grandmother, who all live together. She’s even got a new boyfriend. And then the planes start to crash, and everything begins to fall apart. I say that objectively Miri is the main character, because the frame narrative–which takes place thirty-five years later is told from her perspective, and because of the characters in 1951-52 she’s the one we spend the most time with–but there are also about ten to fifteen other characters who get POV sections, including some victims of the downed planes.
This is actually one of the things about the book that didn’t really work for me. Blume often switches the POVs after a relatively short time with each character, so I didn’t have very much of a chance to get comfortable in any of their voices. It’s also very disorienting at first as you struggle to figure out who’s who in a world where a lot of people have very similar names (it was the 1950s and everybody was named Fred or Henry or whatever).
The writing was really engaging, and there were parts of the novel that were completely unputdownable. I think Blume really nailed the sections to do with the crashing of the planes, both during the events themselves, and having to do with the trauma that affects the characters. It affects them all in different ways and changes the way they act and think about the world. I also really liked that it was essentially historical fiction. The whole vibe of the 1950s with its post-war paranoia and burgeoning domestic idealism/hypocrisy was very, very present. She also gets the dynamics between people very right, whether its new or old romance, female friendships, or the love between parents and children.
But the whole thing just felt too spread out for me. It never coalesced into a whole story, and I couldn’t figure out what the larger point of it was, and I felt that she was trying to make one. I could probably make some educated guesses, but nothing ever clicked for me. I never felt this book on a deeper emotional level than surface entertainment. Which makes me sad.
This book is definitely worth a read, especially if you’re a Judy Blume fan. But mostly it made me want to read her entire back catalogue. Which I might actually do now . . .
Man, it’s been a really long time since I’ve had a book hangover, I forgot what it was like. I also forgot that you can usually tell when it’s about tMan, it’s been a really long time since I’ve had a book hangover, I forgot what it was like. I also forgot that you can usually tell when it’s about to happen. Towards the end of the book–which you have finished at all costs, ignoring sleep and food–you start to feel a little funny, like the boundaries between real life and book life have disappeared. And then afterwards, you’re just done. With books, with stories, with bathing. After I finished it, I ended up starting another rewatch of Legend of Korra so I could shut down my brain for a while. I haven’t started a new audiobook, either, and it’s been really hard for me to concentrate enough to write this review.
This book ruined me is what I’m saying.
The seeds for this book were sown when Australian comedian and television personality John Safran (famed for his often racial and politically minded pranks) played a prank on the white supremacist Richard Barrett. He told Barrett he was filming a special about Barrett’s Spirit of America Day, but really he was there to gather DNA, prove that Barrett was less than 100% white American, and then spring it on him in public and on camera. Barrett, a lawyer, went to town on Safran’s production company, who never aired the segment out of fear of extended litigation. Then about a year later, Barrett was brutally murdered in his Mississippi home by a young black man named Vincent McGee. Safran was deeply freaked out that someone he’d known, spoken with, had been killed so horrifically. Because he’d been reading true crime books lately, an because Barrett had been such an infamous man, he got it in his head to go to Jackson, Mississippi and cover the trial, to try his own hand at true crime writing.
Safran admits openly that he expected certain things going into the project, and one of the most intriguing things about the book is the way that all of those expectations fail so spectacularly. The central expectation, of course, and one you probably flashed on at least a little while reading my summary above, is that the crime was racially motivated. A young black man kills a famous white supremacist? The story practically writes itself. Only . . .
“If Vincent killed a white supremacist, fighting racism, he can be the hero in that story. If Vincent killed a gay man for hitting on him, that doesn’t work anymore. I wanted the narrative to be me and the brave McGee family against ‘the system’. I wanted to be hanging with the black activist lawyers, but they’ve cut me off. Worse, I got on smashingly with Jim, the white supremacist.”
Everything that Safran uncovers, every person he talks to, every door slammed in his face, every strange and criminal person he befriends, only serves to turn the story into something unbelievably complicated and unexpected. The more the story unraveled from what I (and Safran) had expected, the more interesting and compelling it got. I don’t want to say more than that because half the fun is watching Safran uncover these truly ridiculous, real-life facts about his subjects. Watching him delve into the weird and somehow wonderful yet horrifying details of small town Mississippi life and how it intersects with the murder.
And of course, there’s Safran himself, whose writing style is more David Sedaris in spirit than Truman Capote. He’s a smartass, and he’s completely unafraid of making himself look stupid on behalf of his art. He’s also probably the most transparent true crime writer I’ve ever come across, to the point where he spends a later portion of the book literally addressing Janet Malcolm, an author who famously ripped apart another true crime writer and questioned the veracity of his writing. He treats Janet Malcolm like the angel on his shoulder. WWJMD is his motto. His entire tone is irreverent, mixed with this weird sincerity and genuine quest for the truth, whatever that is. I found myself completely sucked in to it, perhaps because Safran was so very present in the writing. It felt more real.
I highly recommend this book. It wasn’t perfect–the ending was a bit anticlimactic, and I would have appreciated more of a conclusion–but overall it was a really great read. It’s relevant, it’s funny, and it will give you a hangover.
This was really good! I loved Kamala. I have some questions about how she got her superpowers*, but I was willing to overlook them because I was havinThis was really good! I loved Kamala. I have some questions about how she got her superpowers*, but I was willing to overlook them because I was having so much fun reading this. I liked the conflict between her love for her parents and her culture, and the outside world. I loved how she dreamt about being a superhero, total Carol Danvers fangirl, and then when she actually got to be one, how she reacted so unexpectedly. I've never read Ms. Marvel or Captain Marvel, but it wasn't a big deal that I haven't--this book stnads on its own. I will definitely be keeping up with this series.
First, if you haven't yet read the masterpiece that is Roxane Gay's recap of Magic Mike XXL, go do that first.
Okay, so this book is nothing likeFirst, if you haven't yet read the masterpiece that is Roxane Gay's recap of Magic Mike XXL, go do that first.
Okay, so this book is nothing like that Magic Mike XXL recap, excepting that they are both written by the same very talented writer, who can slip effortlessly from writing obscene yet gut-bustingly hilarious movie recaps with a smidgen of feministic leanings, to writing very deeply personal and intelligent, well-reasoned essays about body image and sexuality and pop culture and rape and race in the movies and any number of other topics relevant to life in the modern world. This is a book full of the latter, but because Roxane Gay is a funny person, her humorous outlook on life also slips in to even the most serious of the essays.
All in all, this essay collection isn't just one thing. It is many things at once, just like Ms. Gay herself. It's messy and complicated and compassionate and reasonable and flawed. From the very first chapter, Gay declares it her mission statement to embrace the label of the Bad Feminist:
"I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I'm not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I am right. I am just trying--trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb for repairmen because it's easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral high ground."
The opening essay is probably the most important, just because it sets the tone of the book, laying out what she's trying to accomplish.
"I am a bad feminist because I never want to be placed on a Feminist Pedestal. People who are placed on pedestals are expected to pose, perfectly. Then they get knocked off when they fuck it up. I regularly fuck it up. Consider me already knocked off."
Basically, the whole book is a call for inclusion and compassion and reason, and to allow for human flaws and complexity. It's incredibly sane. Probably the most sane book I've ever read concerning feminist issues. Really, human issues. Unfortunately, the title is probably going to scare off a lot of people who would enjoy and/or benefit from reading it. So, I implore you, don't let the title scare you off. There is absolutely nothing about this book that is radical. If you are a human being, there will be something in here for you to enjoy or relate to.
Reading this book was like sitting out by the pool with your best girl friends, shooting the shit about life and people and stuff and things. Which is funny, because I read a large part of this book while sitting by a pool with my best girl friends a couple of Saturdays ago.
The book is broken up into sections. The first features only a couple of essays, and it's sort of an Intro to Roxane Gay. Mostly they are about her career as an English/Writing professor, and her introduction to the cutthroat world of competitive Scrabble. This is probably the funniest essay in the collection. The other sections roughly cover gender and sexuality and race and pop culture in equal measures. My favorite essay was about the Hunger Games, which actually turned out to be equal parts emotionally brutal and hilarious, as Gay goes pretty personal in that one. Other highlights are her takedowns of Tyler Perry and Fifty Shades of Grey. She also has a perspective on The Help that is very different from my own. I didn't agree with everything she said in every essay, but it's hard to get upset about it as the main point of the book is that people are different and messy and human.
(A notable example of this is her read on Crazy Eyes/Suzanne Warren from Orange is the New Black. She seems to miss the entire point of that character, mainly that she is introduced as a stereotype at the beginning of the show because it is the entire point of that character that because of her differences, she is dehumanized. A main arc of that character is her desire and action to become a person that other people treat like a person. This is one of the rare instances in the book where Gay seems to miss the larger context, or be so affected by her own personal biases that she misreads a situation. But again, people are flawed and messy so this is okay.)
Not everything in this book totally worked for me, but I feel like I just really need to give it five stars, because what worked REALLY worked. And the vast majority of it felt like the literary equivalent of eating a mint-chocolate chip ice cream cone on a hot summer day, equal parts messy and delicious and soothing of the hot and bothered soul. I need to buy my own copy immediately.
And I shall close this review with a quote from the last page of the book, a sentiment that brilliantly sums up how I feel about feminism:
"Like most people, I'm full of contradictions, but I also don't want to be treated like shit for being a woman. I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all."
I DID IT. I FINISHED THIS HULKING BEAST OF A BOOK.
The Fiery Cross is the fifth book in Arizona (woot) author Diana Gabaldon’s time-traveling historicaI DID IT. I FINISHED THIS HULKING BEAST OF A BOOK.
The Fiery Cross is the fifth book in Arizona (woot) author Diana Gabaldon’s time-traveling historical fiction saga. I have enjoyed all the books up until this one, some with reservations, but still enjoyed. They all felt like they had strong backbones, and even though they were long, most of the stuff stuffed up in there had a point. Not so with this fucker.
Since the book is soooooo looooooong, I’m going to respond by being more concise than I would usually, just to get my point across here.
- – -
HOW TO WRITE A TURGID HOT MESS OF A BOOK, IN FIVE EASY STEPS!
1. Don’t have an outline or any other sort of plan going in. Narrative arcs are not important, and neither is change. Just have your characters do thing after thing after important thing for a whole novel and it doesn’t matter if you have something to tie it all together by the end. You can even switch genres halfway through your novel. It will totally not be confusing or frustrating at all! It is totally okay, even encouraged! to have your reader not be able to identify more than three or four parts that were actually important and relevant.
2. Describe in great detail meals, bowel movements, sweaty clothing, every poopy diaper, regular updates on the breasts of a character who is breastfeeding (a little swollen, leaking milk, rock hard, empty, etc.). Include extended excerpts from dream journals that hint at character arcs but never actually turn into anything. No detail is too small or insignificant. (DON’T EVEN MISS ONE!) EVERY SMALL DETAIL AND ACTION YOU CAN HAVE YOUR CHARACTERS DO WILL MAKE YOUR NOVEL EVEN LONGER AND HOTTER AND MESSIER. Don’t listen to those people who tell you that most of the things in your novel should connect to the central storyline or theme. Don’t listen to the people, even your readers, who will tell you that these moments are nice every now and again, but not all the time. Your novel should be mostly these moments, like we’re following your characters around in a neverending documentary of their every waking moment over a period of years.
3. Make your novel as long as possible. Longer=better. More=better. Drown these people in words. Their hands should be black with ink and their wrists ache by the time they’re finished. Never mind that pesky writing advice that says the more times you do something, the less impact it will have. Never mind all those people who praise concise writing, or get off on variation. Your characters are special, and the more time you let your readers spend with them, well, they should just be grateful, dammit.
4. When you’re at the thousandth page of your manuscript and have been teasing your reader mercilessly with the promise of a plot for hundreds of pages by this point, make sure to take one last completely pointless trip into the woods so your characters can deal with a mystical fucking white ghost bear* because in previous books the natives had given them portentous names like The White Raven and Bear-Killer, so they’re the only ones who can help, obvs. Have the bear be killed in a freak storm by a giant bolt of lightning while your characters coincidentally watch. The whole episode should take up at least seventy-five pages and have no bearing on the plot whatsoever.
*Or equivalent thereof.
5. Make sure to fit in the actual important bits towards the absolute end of the novel, after your reader has already checked out emotionally from the book and couldn’t actually give a flying saucer about any of it anymore. Just really make sure to bury completely the really interesting bits of your novel in absolute mundane as shit stuff so your reader can’t even find it!
- – -
Voila! Follow this formula, and even your most diehard reader will think twice next time about purchasing your books. Again, don’t listen to those people with common sense. Turning away readers is an excellent way to make money....more
And so concludes another installment of the madcap adventures of that time-traveling Highlander clan, the Mackenzie-Fraser whatevers. This was the leaAnd so concludes another installment of the madcap adventures of that time-traveling Highlander clan, the Mackenzie-Fraser whatevers. This was the least weird, but most melodramatic of the books so far. It was wacky and I enjoyed it, despite some issues.
In 1767, Claire, Jamie and Ian are fresh from being shipwrecked off the coast of Georgia. In 1969, Jamie and Claire’s grown daughter, Brianna, grows closer to Roger Wakefield, the only other person who knows her family’s secret: they are time-travelers. And Roger, too, is a time-traveler. The two plotlines move separately–Jamie and Claire begin the long, slow process of building a life in the new world, and Bree learns to live without her mother, even as she reluctantly falls in love with Roger. The two stories intersect when Bree finds an article documenting her parents’ death, and she travels back in time to prevent the incident from happening. Roger follows her. All sorts of things ensue. This is an Outlander novel.
(view spoiler)[A whole bunch of wacky stuff happens in this book. Jamie kills a bear, basically by jumping on it and hugging it to death. Claire gets lost in the snow and meets the ghost of a dead native, who also turns out to have been a time-traveler. Claire operates on a mountain man’s balls. Ian is forcibly adopted by a tribe of Algonquin. Roger helps a couple on a plague ship, who turn out to be his ancestors. Brianna tries to blackmail Lord John Grey into marrying her, otherwise she’ll tell everyone he’s into dudes. Jamie helps a man escape who was supposed to be hanged. Later, that man steals all their money. Later than that, he rapes Brianna. That last thing isn’t so much wacky as horrifying.
Here’s the thing about these books. Most of that stuff isn’t really all that wacky in context (although it’s really hard to ever read that bear thing, or the ghost thing, in any other way). While I thought the first half of the book was a little too slow, I can appreciate Gabaldon’s impulse to show Jamie and Claire figuring out their new situation, and thankfully as you get towards the middle, she skips years of time so we don’t get too bogged down in unnecessary details. Once Bree and Roger arrive in 1767, the book is relatively fast-paced. (I say relatively, because it’s Diana Gabaldon and she pretty much just does whatever she wants.)
There was a bunch of stuff I really liked. A lot of time is covered, while it does get a bit tedious, mostly Gabaldon skips the boring stuff and shows us intervals of Claire and Jamie setting up Fraser’s Ridge. Also, we see the first inklings of the Revolutionary war. I mostly loved the stuff with Roger and Bree (until her rape and the mix-up with Roger Wakefield/Mackenzie). I loved the scene where Jamie and Bree meet for the first time. Loved Jamie and Willie hangin’ out (although it annoyed me that Gabaldon switched POVs so we could see it). The Gabaldon weird was there, but it tracks with the other weird, sort of psuedo-spiritual stuff we’ve seen (the Loch Ness monster in book one, suggested to be a time-traveling dinosaur?; the magical uterus healing form book two, the voodoo cave magic from book three, etc.) Brianna meeting the Frasers at Lallybroch was delightful, although I could have done without the appearance by Laoghire.
I did have some issues. Really, only a couple, but they’re kind of large ones. Was it really necessary for Brianna to be raped? That makes her the fourth important character to be sexually assaulted. Is this a prerequisite for all of Gabaldon’s characters? Surely she could have found some other way to bring about all the plot-happenings. All this rape, it’s just tiresome. I also hated Jamie being an asshole to Brianna near the end. Roger not accepting baby immediately was out of character for me. That guy worshipped at Brianna’s feet, and I didn’t take him for the territorial type. Surely he would have accepted that baby immediately. I bought he and Bree having ahard time getting back in the flow of their relationship, but not that he wouldn’t immediately decide to be with her. Stephen Bonnet, not sure how I feel about him. It was also a bit frustrating that such major plot happenings hinged on Jamie and Ian mistaking Roger for Bonnet, the servant girl thinking Roger raped her. All of these coincidences feel like lazy, cheesy writing to me, and they mar an otherwise very enjoyable book. (hide spoiler)]
I’ve heard the fifth book is a doozy, and a bit unwieldy. At 1,400 plus pages, I believe this. I will predict right now that I will say in my eventual review of that book that hundreds of those pages could have been omitted without harming the story. Still, I will continue to read on. I’m in it now, and I hope eventually she writes a book that lives up to how much I loved Voyager.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
First, maybe don't even bother reading this review. Just go get the book somehow. Borrow it. Buy it. Get on your Kindle. Steal it. No, don't steal it.First, maybe don't even bother reading this review. Just go get the book somehow. Borrow it. Buy it. Get on your Kindle. Steal it. No, don't steal it. Get the book legally. Then read it. More people need to read this. I can't believe it's not more popular than it is.
No, wait. Scratch that. I can believe it. I can believe it because this book isn't one that lets you get away with your shit. It confronts you, makes you uncomfortable, and asks you to be okay with rethinking the world around you. People don't like to be challenged. People don't like to reevaluate. Changing the way you see the world also means changing how you see yourself.
This book gets pretty much everything right, and more about all that later, but the thing it gets the MOST right, I think, is the way that Sarah and Linda perfectly portray what it's like to realize for the first time that you have your own mind, that things you've believed your whole life might be foundationally wrong, and what it's like to set yourself free from the way other people have told you the way the world is supposed to work.
I was really sheltered as a child. My family was by no means rich, but we were upper middle class, and I experienced no poverty, no economic hardship whatsoever. I was also raised Roman Catholic by a very devout mother, who taught me to be kind, to forgive and to treat everyone as I would want to be treated. Of course, I was a kid, and kids are little shits, so it's not like I'm saying I always did what my parents told me, but it's the foundation everything I am was built upon. So when I left that sheltered environment and began encountering people and ideas that challenged the way I'd been taught to view the world, I experienced a very real mental crisis that I think is common for people going to college for the first time. I began to realize there was a huge disconnect between the things my mother taught me about how to be a good person, and some of the things I was told by my parents, my culture and everything around me about the world. This is one of the reasons conservative parents (mine included) are convinced that college brainwashes you to be liberal. What it actually does, if you do it right, is UN-brainwash you. True education isn't supposed to indoctrinate you into any belief, liberal or conservative or anything else. It's supposed to teach you how to see and understand the world so you can form your own beliefs, to think for yourself.
And that's what happens in this book for Sarah and Linda, when ten black high school students become the first to enter a white high school in 1959 Virginia, four years after the passing of "Brown vs. the Board of Education."
Look, this book is emotionally brutal. But it's important. I've read about Desegregation before and learned the facts in a 'This is What Happened' sort of way, but I never before thought about what any of it meant for the actual people experiencing it, or what it meant about the people tormenting them. The very first chapter of this book features the black students entering the school for the first time, and immediately Talley writes it so that you feel what they feel, as they are mobbed by angry white people, screaming at them, throwing things, calling them horrible names and chanting, and generally acting like they aren't even human. It made me sick. And so angry. And ashamed for the human race that people could act so full of ignorance, stupidity, violence and hatred. And it only got worse from there. We are terrible and we deserve nothing.
But in the midst of this is brave Sarah, a high school senior determined to stick it out and do her part for the cause, because her parents have asked her to. And in the midst of this is Linda, the daughter of a prominent segregationist, whose world is completely shaken at its core by the experience of knowing a black person first as a human being and not as a piece of propaganda.
And then of course, the thing the marketing of this book sort of goes out of its way to hide, that this is a love story between two girls living in a place where it's not okay for them to even be friends, let alone in love with one another. And they are both sooooo confused. About everything. The emotional journey of this book is just lovely.
And of course it's great as a piece of historical fiction as well. The way that Talley integrates (pun initially unintended, but I'm totally going with it now) talk about identity and desegregation and rethinking the things you know, it just all *works*. The only complaint I really have about the whole thing is that Linda's initial change of heart felt a little too fast for me in the beginning, but I think even that complaint is irrelevant at the end, because Talley certainly spends enough time letting her sort things through for it to be believable by the end.
Anyway, long story short, you should read this book. Even if you "don't like YA." If this book teaches anything, it's that labels are shit. Read the book and think for yourself. I'm being overly aggressive in this last paragraph, perhaps, but when I see a book that should be more widely read, I feel like I need to do my part and share the love.
Wow, I just zoomed right through this. For a fifteen year old, Maya Van Wagenen has a very compelling voice. Frankly, this would be good even if it waWow, I just zoomed right through this. For a fifteen year old, Maya Van Wagenen has a very compelling voice. Frankly, this would be good even if it was written by someone older. But I can’t get over how brave this kid was to do all of this. I never could have done it when I was her age — at the peak of my miserable weirdo awkwardness. And she writes with humor and compassion that a lot of assholes older than her could do to learn something from. She’s going places.
Maya Van Wagenen’s father found an old 1950s etiquette and popularity guide written by a former 1950s model in a thrift store and gave it to her as a gag gift. Maya, very aware of and unhappy with her low social standing (“pretty much the lowest level of people at school who aren’t paid to be here”), decided to do a social experiment: for one year, she would follow the tips in Betty Cornell’s book and document the results.
Most of the tips are outdated and cause Maya more stress than they do help in providing her with tips for navigating the modern adolescent world (dressing in pearls and skirts and gloves like someone’s grandmother is not the way to get other eighth graders to think you’re ‘cool’). It’s not even that the book has anything particularly original or worthwhile to say, more that it forced Maya to step outside of her comfort zone and do things she normally would have been afraid to. It also gave her a new perspective on the other kids in her school that completely – and no exaggeration here — changed her life.
As mentioned above, the real selling point of this book is Maya’s voice. She is funny and insightful and smart. She writes with a confidence that I would have killed for at her age, while at the same time allowing us to see her as a vulnerable human being at some pretty low points. The actions that she took to change her life and the conclusions she draws from her experience are ones that, frankly, astound me. This book should be required reading for middle schoolers. If I would have read it when I was thirteen and taken its message to heart, I think I my adolescence would have been very, very different.
I’m trying to be as vague as possible here while still giving you a taste of what to expect, but it’s really difficult. Just check the book out. I was able to get my library to order a copy. I read it in a couple of hours straight through. Maya tells us almost from the beginning that she wants to be an author someday, which is a goal she has obviously already succeeded in. However, if this is the kind of thing she can accomplish by the age of fifteen, I really look forward to seeing what else she has in store for the reading public as she grows older.
Plus, there’s going to be a movie! (Of course there’s going to be a movie. I hope they do it justice.)...more
But it's also tricksy. You might think going into the book that that evil will be contained in the form of our central, ancieThis book is about evil.
But it's also tricksy. You might think going into the book that that evil will be contained in the form of our central, ancient vampire (the non-sparkly kind, thank you very much, and a true monster in the oldest sense of the term). And there is certainly evil in Kurt Barlow (if that's even your real name, you son of a bitch), but he wouldn't be nearly as frightening as he turns out to be if King hadn't made the smart decision to show us the true source of that evil, and it ain't the angel from below.
King spends a little over half of the book showing us bits and pieces of the hidden lives, the dirty secrets, of the citizens of Jerusalem's Lot. The book does this neat balancing trick where the vampire stuff only creeps in slowly, slowly, and as we see more of the town, the vampire stuff starts going faster, just a little more, until finally in a series of plot explosions that send the plot racing ahead exponentially (and the inhabitants to their graves), it ends up feeling like these people died not just because a vampire came after them, but because they were rotting from the inside already. It's like he uses Barlow as an amplified symbol of the corrupted humanity that the rest of them only have in variously sized slivers. Barlow is the scariest not when he's jumping out at people and sucking their blood, but when he's using their deepest fears and desires against them.
It all feels horrifyingly inevitable.
In his introduction to the edition I read, SK mentions that his inspiration for writing this book was to do what hadn't been done yet at that time (1975), and bring the idea of the Stokerian vampire to the modern world, specifically small town America. I haven't read Dracula yet, so I can't speak to the way this story plays off that one specifically, but the Dracula mythos has infiltrated the zeitgeist enough for me to get the general idea. The vampire is traditionally considered to be a symbol of cultural bogeymen, standing in for sex, disease, you name it, but the way King handles it broadens it in a way that feels very deliberate.
This was SK's second book, and I think you can tell. The writing was solid, and a lot of parts extremely striking, but the plot dragged occasionally in the first half, and I had a hard time caring about most of the characters as individuals as opposed to vampire fighting chess pieces. Father Callahan, a priest struggling with his demons and his faith, felt the most real to me by far. Ben was a good guy, but he also felt weirdly distant to me as a character, like he could have been any good guy. His relationship with Susan Norton felt rushed to me, and I didn't quite buy it. All the characters felt distant that way to me.
I should confess that I probably didn't do the book any favors in the way I read it. I listened to this in audio, and the narrator was great, but my library's copy was physical, and I'm so used to listening to digital audiobooks that I can carry around with me in my pocket, and get really deep into it in lots of uninterrupted listening sessions. I read this in the car in spurts, and frequently it was shunted aside in favor of other audiobooks and podcasts that all felt more urgent to me. I'm sure at least some of my disconnect from these characters is related to all of that.
Still, this book was pretty great. I love the way SK writes about people and monsters. I'm glad I finally read this, and I'm super glad I've finally outgrown my instant rejection of all things horror, because I would miss the good ones that get to you in that deep psychological and emotional level. A good horror monster tale isn't about slashing and killing, it's about inner devastation. And hoo boy was young SK really into that idea.