Surrender was a sad, creepy book. Like, creeeepy. In some respects - and as the synopsis might have you believe - it is a book about a friendship that...moreSurrender was a sad, creepy book. Like, creeeepy. In some respects - and as the synopsis might have you believe - it is a book about a friendship that both acts to heal the loneliness that comes with being an "outsider" in a small-town, and acts as a catalyst for mischeivous things to occur.
Alternating between the two points-of-view, present-tense narrator, Finnigan (bad boy), and reflective narrator, Gabriel (good boy), Surrender is part-mystery, part literary-fiction, and - at the end - part-thriller. The prose is very swirly and descriptive - at times overly so, in my opinion. The writing can be beautiful, but sometimes so overwrought that events can become confusing for the reader. Not "good" confusing - an intentional dreamlike, narrative device. But, confusing-confusing - like, "wait, what just happened? I'm 20 pages in and have no sense of time, place, setting, character..." The style warms to you after awhile, but the lines of description certainly could've used a bit of breathing room.
I didn't feel this was a book about friendship. No, Finnigan and Gabriel aren't two unlikely friends bashing around the woods together, helping one another through hard times, and playing with their dog. It is a book about desperation. The fear of being isolated. Of not being touched. Not a book about friendship itself, but of longing, maybe, for a friend. And getting something literally terrible in its place.
Instead, I felt this book is mostly about shame. Yup, it's about swallowing a mean, burning-hot rock of shame and letting it live in your belly for thirteen years. It's about what that shame turns into, and what a person burdened by guilt and trauma is capable of when that shame hurts too badly.
At times, it seems Surrender is about our responsibility to our natures: who we think we are, what we think we're capable of, how we act on our desires - whether they are for security, food, revenge. But, it is also about who is "observing" us doing it. Who we imagine seeing us when we thought no one was watching. A novel of surveillance. See: Finnigan surveying the town from atop the mountains and hills. See: Gabriel glancing behind himself with the feeling of being watched.
Surrender is also about the terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad way that human beings can diminish, break, and destroy other human beings. Not a dirty-quick-Bang!-type of "destroy;" but a slow, patient, methodical, deliberate kind of destruction...one that can occur in almost full-view of the whole town watching. Reading Surrender is like watching abuse take place, and flinching, and trying to look away, and not being able to.
When I say "trying to look away, and not being able to," I do not mean to imply that Hartnett writes about abuse exploitatively. The abuse, or graphic scenes (there are a few of these, look out!), depicted in Surrender are not train-wreck moments. They are deep, compassionate, expressive moments of exposition and characterization, handled gracefully by the author.
To be honest, I don't know that too many readers would enjoy Surrender. It is dark. Almost hopeless. Sad. It bummed the shit out of me. But, it is well-done overall. Hey - it won a Printz Honor, and is considered one of the "best book[s] written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit." Still - after reading (and thoroughly enjoying) Tender Morsels, another Printz Honor Book, itself filled with vivid, gruesome revenge scenes, I find myself wondering if one of the qualifications for a Printz Honor is a "holy-mutherfuckin-shit-seriously-did-that-just-happen-yuck!" reaction.
I mean - I finished Surrender at 12:38 up all alone in my apartment, and I was convinced I was going to have nightmares at the end scenes (view spoiler)[Vernon at the window! Vernon on the bed! (hide spoiler)]. Do the Printz judges think teenagers can only be moved by horrible violence that gives you the heebies before you go to sleep?["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
**spoiler alert** This was a beautifully written book concerning a difficult subject. Well, *three cheers* to Kirsty Eagar because it has been a long...more**spoiler alert** This was a beautifully written book concerning a difficult subject. Well, *three cheers* to Kirsty Eagar because it has been a long time since I have felt so strongly for a character after finishing a book. That being said, for the remainder of this review, you'll probably notice that I feel very "defensive" about this character, and felt a strong sense of "protection" for her, while I was reading from her point of view (first person, present tense - done very well).
Raw Blue is a story about trauma and healing. A lot of people would tell you it is also a love story. But, it's not, really.
It's the story of a girl who wakes up every day and tries to get by after a traumatic experience - a gang rape - fucking levels her happy-go-lucky teenage life. It unfolds like a horrifying media-cautionary-tale-come-true: drunk girl seperated from friends, goes to a party with a guy, passes out, wakes up with her panties around her ankles...and the most horrifying memories one can imagine.
The shame of this crime shuts Carly up good: she tells no one, trusts no one. She feels damaged, responsible, like a statistic - she is angry for feeling like a victim, and angry for feeling helpless against it. She's afraid of men (with good reason, they're constantly fucking touching her in this book! Seriously, I felt like screaming "Get your hands off her," like twenty times while I was reading this...).
Carly literally drops out of her life to avoid everything: she works and she surfs. And she only works to afford surfing. So, mainly she just surfs. And - just so you know, I don't know jackshit about surfing - but the "surfing" passages of this book are the most beautiful.
Eventually, Carly opens up to a few characters: her neighbor, a teenage boy she surfs with, and a guy who wants to date her, Ryan.
I read all kinds of reviews about this book. And so many of them are all "OMG! Ryan, right?" and "Gasp! Their love!" But, honestly, the story of Carly's relationship with Ryan is not going to send you into a romantic tailspin: This isn't Edward Cullen (or even Jonah Griggs), so calm down.
In fact, if you (re-)read it, you might see that Carly is actually terrified of Ryan most of the time. Through Eagar's amazing narrative voice, Carly's fears are palpable: real and honest and heartbreaking. She likes Ryan, but is afraid to be around him. She doesn't know how conduct herself when she's near him.
And Ryan. Ryan is a good guy. Ryan knows how to get a girl off in the sack. Ryan calls back, and Ryan makes her laugh. These are all great things - but, those traits don't make Ryan "special." Make no mistake - I don't think Kirsty Eagar romanticizes Ryan in any way. He wasn't the "key," he wasn't what was "missing," he probably isn't even her "soulmate" - if that's what these girls get so ga-ga over.
Ryan was important to Carly by helping her trust people once again. But, he didn't "save" our troubled heroine. And, I didn't find their story "romantic," in the traditional sense. Honestly, I found it weird that many girls found "romance" there. I mean, most of the time, their scenes together were flinchingly awkward, which I thought was excellent - in the sense that the scenes felt real and authentic. To romanticize them later seems, to me, like some kind of awkward YA-Romance-Wish-Fullfilment or something.
One of the scenes that was conflicting, for instance, was the first sex scene between her and Ryan. Did readers notice that when it came "time for sex" (right, as if sex just happens at this time in the date like it's block-scheduled), Carly was just going through the motions? Since we are in her head as far narration goes, we don't get the sense that she's "excited" by this. If she had been, she would've been explicit about this. I'm glad the sex turned out really good in her favor - but, her approach to it was sad to me. Not romantic.
And it was not because of Ryan that Carly opens up about her rape. She is almost forced by circumstances to open up about it - based on wanting to explain her erratic behavior. In fact, just letting the secret out (even if it was to Ryan), didn't "changed her life," after all.
There was no magic moment: it just takes time, and patience, and surfing. And I liked that Eagar makes it clear that there isn't a potion, or a healing balm, or something that you can use to call yourself "healed" by trauma. It was very realistic, even if it was sad.
The other thing that was troubling about Carly was that she equated herself as "damaged," and compared herself to other "damaged" characters - like Shane and Marty. Carly equates her own identity with the identity of Shane and Marty - who are in, in fact, aggressors. And she does this as though they are all on the "same team": giving the reader the sense that Carly's inclination is to put "rapist" and "raped" in the same vein.
But, the truth is - a victim of rape, and a perpetrator of sexual aggression, shouldn't be in the same fucking "damaged" category that Carly lumps them into. Though we don't get to hear how Carly's thoughts on this notion may have evolved, I have the feeling that Carly comes to think of herself differently by the end of the book - at least I hope so.
Anyways, I LOVED this book. I loved this book because the writing was brilliant. The characters were multifaceted and developed. The dialogue was (sometimes, painfully) authentic. The moments when Carly is describing surfing are just gorgeous. The fact that you can feel Carly's pain, and really empathize with her character, is the mark of a truly gifted writer with a knack for perfect first-person narration.
Even though I loved it so, because of the highly-charged subject matter, I had more concerns about this book's audience (YA, Young Women), than of it's message. I think that it could be interpreted certain ways that are not intended by the author:
>Namely, that coming to terms with trauma on your own is enough. Carly never seeks help - like professional help. She never reports the crime. Nothing. Even though it is clear to the reader that she is really struggling sometimes. At the end, she just drives off, feeling happy - and we might believe her healed. But, she is healing, I believe. Not healed. Not finished. Just beginning.
>One of the things that could get "mixed up" is the notion that "one good man" will somehow heal the damage that the rape has caused. As you can probably tell by my rantings above, I fear that people will latch on to this notion of being "saved" by love. When being "saved" has little to do with surviving trauma.
>Finally, a "mixed reation" to this book could be the notion that because Carly "blames herself" from time to time ("If only I hadn't been...") that it is okay - as a reader - to view her as responsible, too. The shame, blame, guilt that Carly feels are common symptoms of psychological trauma, but they are not "justifications" for her actions leading up to the rape.
Believe me, I don't think most people see it this way... But, I read a review (not on GR) that said "The message about safety for young women is easily picked up and is perhaps a warning to female readers..." and I don't think that the "message" or "warning" is intended by Kirsty Eagar, at all!
In fact, some of Carly's angriest moments in Raw Blue are actually narrative diatribes about the way that rape/rape victims are portrayed by the media, handled by authorities, and perceived by outsiders. I think Kirsty acknowledges that women in "dangerous" situations is not the "cause" of rape or sexual aggression (Carly is also sexually harassed, for instance, in her "safe" job), and I don't think that it was the author's intention to "warn" her audience.
I just have mixed feelings on how to deal with this book, post-read. I mean, I know I loved it. It's just - I'm careful, sometimes - and Raw Blue a book that needs to be shared and talked about thoughtfully.
I hope you read it, though. It was THAT good, I promise.(less)
This book was okay. Not great. Not terrible. It's a book about an Australian girl of Italian descent and her difficulties navigating teenager-hood wit...moreThis book was okay. Not great. Not terrible. It's a book about an Australian girl of Italian descent and her difficulties navigating teenager-hood with all the baggage of being an "ethnic" girl who falls in love with an "culture-less" Aussie guy. Throw a long-lost dad into to the mix, and you get your story.
My problem with Looking For Alibrandi was that Josie Alibrandi's "voice" was inconsistent. Sometimes, it is the spot-on smart, funny teenager-voice that I expect from great realistic YA! Other times, her voice takes on a narrative quality that was very disingenuous and unauthentic - a kind of after-school-special voice that tells - rather than shows - her character making "revelations," and "learning who she is."
I also really didn't enjoy the "love story," presented here. Jacob Coote was a terrible character, in my opinion. I almost couldn't believe ANYTHING that was coming out of his mouth. I didn't "believe" Josie and Jacob's relationship, from a reader's point of view. Every conversation they had seemed forced to drive home a narrative point or theme, and none of them rang true or genuine. For all the "fighting" that the two of them did, and all the terrible conversations that the two of them had, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why Josephine claimed she "loved him." They were literally terrible in every, single scene.
Overall, I was disappointed in this book because I have read some of Melina Marchetta's other work and it is FANTASTIC. And this wasn't. But, you know - this wasn't a bad book by any stretch of the imagination. And it was her first novel, I think - so I don't hold that against her.
I am glad I read it. I bought a copy of this book, and I will keep it. And I will share it. And, someday, I'd let my daughter read it. And she can laugh at all the times the girls in this book teased their hair and listened to U2 cassettes (it was the beginning of the 90's). And she'll like it, too, I bet. And then she'll move on and read a better book. (Hopefully, one of Marchetta's other books!)
Since this was Marchetta's first novel, I feel like she was writing "what she knew," like they tell you to do in "Writing Your First Novel" class. And I can appreciate that. I feel like Looking For Alibrandi probably has an Italian-Australian niche due to the subject matter. I bet the Aussie girls of Italian heritage loved it. And maybe even some American girls of Italian descent would love it. I didn't love it. But, it had little to do with the heritage-plot and more to do with the voice, characterization, and "love story."
What it comes down to, though, is: there's better books out there with similar themes.(less)