Killer horses! Death and blood! People dying as they compete in a deadly race! Were you expecting an action-flick? Because you might need to calm down...moreKiller horses! Death and blood! People dying as they compete in a deadly race! Were you expecting an action-flick? Because you might need to calm down for a sec before you can enjoy The Scorpio Races.
Well, I just LOVED this book! High 4 Stars - more like 4.5. It was very well-written - it reads more like a work of literary fiction than a paranormal YA. The setting and characterization are key in this book; the romantic elements evolve slowly and organically (never rushed or overwrought); the book has several moments of real tenderness that are are hard to find in YA Romance, where relationship-building is far less subtle than real-life love ever is.
This book is "supposed to" be about a race to the death on man-eating horses. Some people are comparing it to The Hunger Games, most likely because of the danger and the competitive element. But, this book is nothing like The Hunger Games. Readers expecting a fast-paced romp on a killer horse are bound to be disappointed by the book if it's marketed this way. This is actually, for the most part, a quiet and thoughtful book with believable characters and an absolutely gorgeous setting. The small-town feel of the island, and of the villagers who live there, are all well-drawn and well-crafted by Stiefvater. It is a book about "place," one's place in the world and the freedoms one seeks to come of age.
The Scorpio Races is a story told in alternating point-of-views: Puck Connolly's and Sean Kendrick's. I have to say that it took some time to "get to know" Puck, the female lead - even in a first-person present tense! Eventually, Puck becomes a good female lead, in my opinion - she is challenging and independent, and ultimately gets the characterization we were hoping for in the later chapters of the book.
But, the character of Sean was really the masterpiece of this work. Through Sean's POV the setting of the island really comes into being, so much so that it is like a character in it's own right. His relationship with the horses, and particularly Corr, are the strongest in the book. Seriously, tears, guys. Tears.
The minor characters, like Mutt Malvern (guy with something to prove) and Dory Maude (the female avuncular character), are also really well done. The sons of fishermen, the mainland tourists - everyone was drawn pitch-perfectly. ------------------------------ I dropped a star for: Pacing: it took a quite a few pages to "get into" the book, and to really flesh the Puck's character out. I wasn't sure that the first-person present tense was the best choice for this type of pacing and plotting. Something about the book reeks of nostalgia - why contradict that tone with the first-person present tense, when a more reflective one could've worked better? Could it be that the FPPT made the book drag a bit because there was more reflection than action? Dunno - maybe.
The Capall Uisce: I could've used more myth-building here, because I had a hard time wrapping my head around these water-horses that primarily live in the sea, but who can be removed and broken-in and train alongside regular horses. For instance, if a horse was a carnivore, I thought to myself, it would have different teeth. And if it had different teeth, it would have a differently shaped skull. And if it had a differently shaped skull, it wouldn't even look like a horse.
I swayed back and forth between trying to imagine a realistic water-mammal and a fantastic element. Something kept Stiefvater from a definitive position of the horses as magical, or at least magically-real, and I think it is possible that could've been better explained either way.
Unbelievable Motivations: Now, don't get me wrong - for the purpose of the story, I'm happy Puck is in the races. But, why did she sign up for them? Her motivation was very unclear - which would've been okay if the ambivalence was a plot-point, but it wasn't exactly. Puck's motivations are hinted at, but for the reader, they are never fully realized.
Also, (don't worry this isn't technically a spoiler, just a backstory tidbit) even though the dad was a fisherman and the "mom rarely went out on the boat" with him, the one day they go out on the boat together a capall uisce eats them both?!?! Hmmm! Very useful, Maggie Stiefvater, if you're trying to create ORPHANS. But, it reeks of convenience. ------------------------------ All in all, there is a timeless quality to The Scorpio Races which was surprising. There's radio - but no TV - which can align the setting somewhere in the early 20th century, but the reader never knows for sure - no, there's too much that may or may not be different from our own history, our own timeline, to categorize the setting so easily. Maybe it's just "island life"/"small-town" element, but in The Scorpio Races, rest of the world and it's technologies are inconsequential. We don't care about where/when we are, as readers, because we have fallen in love with this exquisite setting.
In a sense, things seem very "old-fashioned" in The Scorpio Races, but to the credit of the writer they are never "stale" or "old" always seeming "modern" rather than "historical." I like this, because unlike a contemp-YA book wherein the protagonist might text her BF "OMG I H8 My Mom TTYL" rendering the book completely outdated and useless in five years (if it isn't already), The Scorpio Races would've been a great book ten years ago, and will be a great book ten years from now - even after the PNR-craze is over (will it ever be over?) and they stop marketing this book for the same audience as Love Bites: The Fairywalker Academy Journals, and someone shelves it next to more thoughtful works of great stand-alone fiction like Jellicoe Road or The Bridge to Terebithia.
Finally, I am in love, love, love with Sean Kendrick. Almost to the point that I am annoyed with myself! I feel like a fourteen-year-old girl right now, even though I turned 30 three days ago. That's how big my book-crush is. Seriously. Sean Kendrick? Just read this book.
Finally-finally, it might go without saying, but Yikes! Beware of the injury and death of animals in this book. It'll make you sad-faced.(less)
Philip Pullman might have the biggest pair of balls in YA Lit. In my first foray into Pullman's work, he killed God and encouraged teen sex to heal th...morePhilip Pullman might have the biggest pair of balls in YA Lit. In my first foray into Pullman's work, he killed God and encouraged teen sex to heal the world. In The Ruby In The Smoke: A Sally Lockhart Mystery, his teenage heroine is encouraged to use drugs to fill in the plot-holes of her life, and she shoots and kills an evil pirate, with a gun she had locked and loaded in her handbag. Lolz - love it!
The setting of The Ruby... is perhaps my favorite setting ever: Victorian London. The East End, Wapping, The Seven Dials - been there before in real Victorian novels - and this felt just as authentic to me as it did when I was reading the literature of the period. (In fact, because of this book, I can't get the setting out of my head, and have followed with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell).
As you might expect, there are several Victorian-y or "Dickensian" moments in The Ruby..., including some very lucky coincidences and an inheritance plot. This was a very enjoyable read...but, it's hard to imagine a young-YA feeling the vibe of this ultimately-kind-of-dark mystery. Tell you what though - I'd want to hang out with the totally-rad-actual-YA that did read the Sally Lockhart mysteries...Yeah, we'd be friends...(less)
The book opened like so: "Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well." Oooooooh. Enter the world of Karou, raised by an...moreThe book opened like so: "Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well." Oooooooh. Enter the world of Karou, raised by an otherworldly - but loving - family of chimeras, who becomes the apple of an avenging angel's eye. Akiva, a Seraphim soldier seeking to destroy the chimeras, is drawn to Karou for reasons unexplainable. Then they fall in love. Then, they figure out WHY they are drawn to each other.
The somewhat dainty "Once upon a time..." fairy-tale/fable motif that opened the book is suspended for a bit of teenage realism as the story takes off... In the beginning, there's a few vague mysteries hinted at. But, for the most part we were introduced to the story's protagonist, Karou, basking in all the teenager-y-ness of modern times: artsy, angsty, angry, snarky, funny. I adored her.
And her strange lifestyle, her bizarro foster family of chimeras? It took very little suspension of disbelief. It was convincing from the get-go. In the world of paranormal romance (fantasy, really) the seamless convergence of worlds is key. How your world holds up might make or break me, as a reader (unless you're Libba Bray, I guess).
Laini Taylor wove the two worlds together so seamlessly. It was as if the two worlds just were. Wow! Now, she's getting Gaiman-esque. I don't know what "Gaiman-esque" means when other people reference Neil Gaiman, but for me, it is something specific:
It is something I see in almost all of Gaiman's work, even the short stories. It is this seamless converging of realities, yes! But, it is also the way the story - which seems to have been told hundreds of times before even though you've only read it once - is fresh and new and perfectly rounded out just like a fairy tale. In some ways, it does not claim to be more than a story. But, its a story so good that it is real and true. (What?!? I dunno, this is why I want to marry Neil Gaiman's books and have their babies.)
Wait - J.R.R. Tolkien knows what I mean. Guh! He talks about this great tree of tales, where all the stories exist as leaves on branches. And the author of a fantasy (or, a fairy-story), doesn't discover the leaf - which is/has always been - but instead unfolds it, tells its story, this story that already exists. "One writes such a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed, nor by means of botany and soil-science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps."
So, at the end of The Daughter Of Smoke & Bone I just picture J.R.R. Tolkien and Neil Gaiman and Laini Taylor all hanging out picking the leaves of this Tree of Tales and giving them to us in a way that we're surprised by them, but at the same time deeply familiar with them, culturally or spiritually, or whatever.
"The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered...while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost." [Tolkien "On Fairy-Stories"]
Let's just say - Taylor's story presents questions, so many questions! But, never about the believability or viability of her world. Only about her story itself. Why does Brimstone collect those teeth, why does Karou have those tattoos on her hands, who were Karou's parents, really?
The Daughter Of Smoke & Bone is quite an accomplishment for a genre (paranormal romance/romantic fantasy), where the love story is allowed to cast a shadow over the more foundational aspects of storytelling itself. Characterization, conflict, resolution - sometimes, those are left out for the better love story, and it makes for a shitty book. But, not in Laini Taylor's case: the love and the longing work perfectly in a beautifully imagined world.
Laini Taylor's The Daughter Of Smoke & Bone is so well done. She is an excellent storyteller with an excellent imagination. The hamsas, the teeth, the smoke, the bone, the myth of the two moons - all delicately revealed. No extraneous details, everything fits.
So, what happened to her fifth star?
"You need to just let this breathe..."
Once, a kid in my fiction writing class said that to me in his critique of my short story. He held up my story and had circled my OMG! First Kissing Scene. "You need to just let this breathe..." It was his only criticism. And he was the One Kid in class whose opinion I most trusted (you know THAT kid in the creative writing class, the one who is better than you, and therefore whose opinion you hinge your every hope on).
He was right, of course. That scene was trying to convey some "big emotions," some big chemistry, and ended up overwrought and prolly terrible to everyone who wasn't me.
Kissing scenes (intimacy scenes) are hard to do right. Like battle scenes! There is chaos there, and emotions all over the place, spewing everywhere like blood or saliva - take your pick - and the reader often finds herself somewhat lost in them, searching for, like, little moments in the paragraph to latch onto, rushing through them to wrap her head around what is actually going on.
I have a really hard time reading battle scenes. And kissing scenes. For the same reason.
So, here goes: my only criticism of Laini Taylor's The Daughter Of Smoke & Bone, which was otherwise a beautifully realized story - as well as a beautifully written story: Lady, you should have just let some of that lovey-dovey angel/demon stuff breathe for a minute.
Ultimately, there is this climactic scene of closeness between Karou and Akiva. In this scene, an action - (view spoiler)[breaking a wishbone (hide spoiler)] - will lead to the truth about who and what Karou is and what exactly their love is about. Man-oh-man, was that scene drawn out. It was pages and pages long!
Paraphrase: And she was drawn to him, and he was drawn to her. And something was pulling her, and something was pulling him. And they were drawn and pulled. Draw/pull, draw/pull, draw/pull. Chapter ends. Draw/pull. Chapter begins. Draw/Pull. Flip pages, draw/pull.
Suddenly, I am lost in a sea of flowery, overwrought prose. Drowning in it, really. Waiting for action, resolution. Waiting for solid-ground storytelling again. (view spoiler)[Break the fucking wishbone! (hide spoiler)]. And it came. And it was explosive. And lovely!
But, someone should've told her to calm down a little bit a for a minute there. No doubt some people live for these intimate moments in romance books. But, I am not one of them. Laini wasn't being a bad writer, per se. But, she was letting these emotional moments fog up the place for a minute, and I found it somewhat unnecessary. Or overlong. Almost - dare I say - boring.
Don't think I hate LOVE, or something. I don't! But, love scenes and battle scenes, man. Sometimes, they can be just too much. They just need to be careful pieces of writing.
...Read this book! It is excellent. Although I am slightly distressed to find myself in the middle of another series for the third time this year (Goddamn you! Game Of Thrones!), I CANNOT wait for more of these characters. In the meantime, I can't wait for some more Laini Taylor - she's outstanding.["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)
This book had an amazing concept. It was full of amazing ideas (the creation of a secret language for an oppressed second class - women). But, it lack...moreThis book had an amazing concept. It was full of amazing ideas (the creation of a secret language for an oppressed second class - women). But, it lacked several things, in my opinion, that prevented it from living up to the proclamation: "feminist science fiction classic."
One of those things was characterization. The first one hundred or so pages in the book had no distinct character for the reader to engage with. There are several plot points expounded in male points of view that readers are supposed to be disgusted by (and are disgusted by!); there is one storyline involving a woman, lacking any real depth, killing out of revenge; and then, there is the mention of some other characters who may be important later. That's it.
In my opinion, having no characters with any emotional depth for the reader to latch onto at the beginning of the story was a serious flaw. It made the pace slow, and frustrated my sense of who or what to believe in in this story.
Another problem I had with this book was the "good guys/bad guys" dichotomy applied by the author. It's simple: All women are good (even the one lady who systematically kills people), all men are bad (even the one guy who appeared to treat a female character like she was equal in intellect and status). I, personally, don't like my contemporary fiction to be so black/white. It is boring, and it is not believable. It narrows the reader's frame of mind and ability to objectively engage with the work. And, if done kind of poorly (as it was here - (view spoiler)[killing babies! C'mon! (hide spoiler)]), it comes off as petty and trite: an authorial position, a fable, a one-dimensional opinion piece - and not a work of fiction.
The final problem that I had with the book was this - the notion that women should have their own language in the first place. Don't get me wrong! I love imagining the subversive power that a secret language has for the oppressed secondary citizen! It was wonderfully done, and very inspiring! But...
Elgin, and by extension, her characters, believe that one's native language creates one's reality - how one perceives the world (Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis), and allowing the women in this story to create and use their OWN language will change their reality. I am all for that notion, ladyface!
The problem with all this is that Elgin really believes - IN REAL LIFE - that women should have a language separate from men. And - in doing so - that we would be essentially better off as separate from them altogether? (What's up, Charlotte-Perkins-Gilman-Radical-Crazypants?)
She believes there are things one can experience as a woman that men could not possibly conceive of. We-ellllllll....
1. There are things that an other experiences that a member of an elite, ruling, or "mainstream" class could not possibly conceive of, true... But, women are not the only other in any conceivable reality, and sometimes, even if they are the other in one reality, they may be the elite, ruling, mainstream in another (in Elgin's case, see: female linguists v. female non-linguists - who dictates what language is/means/can be in that scenario? A-hem, linguists. So, already female non-linguists are the double-other, yes?)
2. The notion of putting "Experience Before Language" and writing "outside of the patriarchy" is a nifty one (Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva, Showalter)...But, does it call for an entirely new language, or simply a new way of USING language? See, the manipulation of a language already existing is, in my opinion, the more subversive and empowering act...
3. The terms that Elgin includes in her Laadan Dictionary seem to be: I. several ways of experiencing empathy II. descriptions of situations that make one feel overworked and unappreciated III. different ways that a body is touched, wants to be touched, doesn't want to be touched
I find these to be somewhat generalized as "female" concepts. They border a tad on the side of the insulting. This is because these are HUMAN concepts, and can occur with MEN as much as they can with WOMEN. They have simply been ASSOCIATED with WOMEN, as a "norm," and not ALLOWED to be ASSOCIATED with men - because of the SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF GENDER.
Right? Guys? You experience empathy, right? You feel unappreciated? You sometimes want to be touched, or are uncomfortable when someone is trying to touch you, right? But, you're not allowed to talk about it, because doing so would be UNMANLY, right? Michael Kimmel? Are you there? Can you hear me? Let's all talk about this. In English. Our language. Together.
Overall, I would recommend this book for its interesting obsession with language and reality. For its "Oh no, they didn't!" factor. But, Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale) did it better: she gave us better reasons for these fucked behaviors, gave us a couple of good men to save our faith in the HUMAN race, made me love Offred (sorry, Nazareth, not gonna happen), and made me cry. She wins. ["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)
To describe a novel teeming with werewolves, shape-shifters, and other supernatural beings lurking in the shadows of our modern cities, playing by the...moreTo describe a novel teeming with werewolves, shape-shifters, and other supernatural beings lurking in the shadows of our modern cities, playing by their own rules, and heading secret councils... Is to unfortunately describe an overdone trend that is seriously making me YAWN. This genre, in its essence, is supposed to excite and thrill. Fairies and vampires? Hybrid wolf-people? Immortality? Mutant healing abilities? These are elements of the strange and impossible. Instead, this type of story is being done-to-(un?)death, causing the genre to collapse under the weight of millions of writhing, desperate teenage girls looking for their next Cullen-fix.
So, move over Stephenie Meyer and third-rate paranormal-romanciers. Enter Lish McBride - she'll put an end to your melodrama. Quick warning: The story is not really original. Meh! I feel like this book was not influenced by the slew of sparkly purple-and-black Twilight-and-friends that are crowding up the urban fantasy genre. Rather than dreaming of all the ways one could consummate hot-vampire-sex, and then creating a shoddy book series out of the wet-dream, Lish McBride steps away from that scene, and her influences peek-out from a more sophisticated, and snarky, perspective. She creates characters, and her characters are far less like Mary Sues and Gary Stus. And so far, she's written a book that seems cemented against inconsistencies, which has the ideal pace and scope to offer the hope of a great series.
This book reminds me of Neil Gaiman (a little American Gods, more Anansi Boys, a touch of Good Omens), Alan Ball's True Blood renditions of the Sookie Stackhouse story, the way-too-short-lived (oh!) TV show Dead Like Me (waffles!), a touch of Nick Hornby... you know, AWESOME things.
The author clearly enjoys 1) good music 2) irony 3) sensitive man-boys 4) ya lit. I can get behind that!
This book offers 1) an escape from the boring, post-adolescent world of full-time crap-jobs 2) vegetarians contemplating the ethics of blood sacrifice 3) fresh, angry little lawn gnomes with tiny, pointy shovel-weapons 4) sexually-harassing 70-year-old witch neighbors 5) thankfully-not-too-graphic cage sex 6) zombie pandas 7) pantless satyrs 8) a talking cat, like the one in Sabrina The Teenage Witch.
So, this novel was fun, fun, fun.
Ladies, beware: McBride employs the "Women in Refrigerators" trope early on in the book. (someone explains it better than I can here: Tropes Vs. Women). However, the great thing about Lish McBride is (view spoiler)[She also turns the "Dead Men Defrosting Solution" (just watch that video, or wiki it, or whatever) on its head (pun in-freakin-tended!) by restoring the female character by the story's end (hide spoiler)]. Nice save!
Waiting for more! I think I have to wait a whole frickin year for the next one! Can someone do something about that?["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Before I critique this book, I want to share a couple of things that I enjoyed about it, first.
1. Women's Colleges and Women's Studies Classrooms: I s...moreBefore I critique this book, I want to share a couple of things that I enjoyed about it, first.
1. Women's Colleges and Women's Studies Classrooms: I spent my first college-year at an all-women's school in New York State. Not since elementary school (and never after) had I felt so confident in my ability and authority as a student, my agency, my voice. Something about a room full of women really made me comfortable in terms of my education. I can't really describe it better than that.
I don't propose that this is for everyone, that schools or classrooms should be single-sex, I don't propose ANYTHING of the sort. In fact, the majority of my education was completed co-ed. But, when I had it, I didn't realize how much it affected me until I returned to school years later and found myself terrified of my own voice and doubtful of my abilities as a student. I was shaky, out-of-practice, felt stupid, removed from academia, unable to compete. And then I took a Women's Studies course, and it came back to me. My confidence. The open conversation, the positive environment (sounds so lame, but its true), an openly-respectful classroom that acknowledges that its not the average classroom from day-one. And suddenly, going back to school was no big thang.
2. Going Back To School: I love Staal's proposal and goal to go back to school and re-take a well-loved course, Fem Texts, from her alma mater, Barnard. What a good idea!
3. Reading: I love reading. Hence, I usually love books that feature people reading and talking about what they've read (Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Perks Of Being a Wallflower, Fahrenheit 451). Nerd.
OK, all done. Now, on to the bullshit:
Stephanie Staal relates her studies of feminism directly into her personal and domestic life. On some level, that is honorable. Honorable in the sense that here is a woman taking time out of her hectic and harried life to pursue an intellectual goal. However, to simply say (as an example) "Here's how Judith Butler relates to me being a mom," and leave ANYTHING ELSE Judith Butler might have contributed to feminism, queer studies, social paradigms... completely out of the dialogue? That's really lame.
"Who cares?", Stephanie Staal blurts about Judith Butler, gender theory, and postmodernism, in general. Well, a lot of people, actually. And since you've chosen (yes, chosen... Staal picksy-choozy'd the books out of the curriculum that mattered most to her, leaving most works on the syllabus unanalyzed in her final memoir - most of which by women of color) to discuss Judith Butler, why not give her contribution better treatment? You afforded it to Wollstonecraft and Pagels.
Instead, the reader can really FEEL that as Third-Wave Feminism and Postmodern Thought enter the curriculum, Stephanie Staal gets in over her head. I do not believe that this is because Staal is not intelligent enough to handle the rigor of deconstruction. She's a Barnard grad! Hell, I'll be the first to say "Whaaaaafuck?" to these readings myself, being a First-Gen-State-U-Girl-From-The-Lower-Uneducated-Class. But, you wouldn't see me, with my meager understanding, attempt to simplify complex ideas, and tailor them to fit around my personal or domestic narrative - at least, not in a published work, you wouldn't!
I believe Staal's lack of understanding comes from her lack of wanting to understand. Postmodernism scares the pants off her, it seems, because she fails to make her (sorry for the overused fem motto, but) personal, political. She fails to see her privilege.
She negotiates the life's work of theorists with only the lens of motherhood or wifehood or thirty-something-womanhood; her domesticity; never grasping a bigger picture, never using the works to translate over to social movements, to women of other cultures, to women of different classes, and especially not to women of different sexual orientations or identifications. Her mind never wanders out of the sphere of "Stephanie Staal." She's closed off. She's narrow. Hell, in a book about reconciling career and motherhood, Stephanie Staal all but dismisses the "glass Ceiling," hardly details the difficulty of re-entering the workforce for moms raising kids, and never references injustices on the job. Fail.
Two things really bothered me about this book.
1. The discussion of rape, and of Roiphe's The Morning After: Fear, Sex and Feminism. Now, full disclosure: I haven't read Roiphe's The Morning After, but my problem lies with the discussion of the text in Staal's Fem Texts class, and not the work itself.
I'm going to just come right out and say this, even though I know very little about the Barnard Demographic and will be working almost entirely on assumption. Feel free to school me, if you feel the need. But, let's compare Barnard and my school, for a moment.
Staal: Private Ivy-Affiliated [Seven Sisters] College Urban (Morningside Heights/Upper West Side of Manhattan) White As Shit Rich As Shit Upper Middle to Executive/Professional Class Probably Many Alumni Daughters Probably A Lot of Old Money Retention Rate: 94% Motto: "Following The Way of Reason"
Me: Publically-Funded State University System Urban (Dorchester, MA on the Southie Line) Racially Diverse ("most diverse student population in New England" - tho, never forget we're in whitey-white New England, here) Largely Middle and Lower-Middle Class Students Many First Generation College Attendees Many First Generation U.S. Citizens/20% non-U.S. Citizens Retention Rate: 26% Motto: "Affordable!"
Now, don't get me wrong, I love my school. And don't get me wrong, Barnard sounds amazeballs (did you know that they have a Zine library? "In an effort to document the third-wave feminism and Riot Grrrl culture, the Zine Collection complements Barnard's women's studies research holdings..." Fuckin Neat-o!)
But, these race and class distinctions are tantamount to my argument against Staal's "rape chapter" (it goes without saying, since all the other Goodreads Reviewers have done so more articulately than I, that class privilege is present throughout the work). On the topic of rape, the disparity really came into focus for me.
In my experience in the Women's Studies classroom, discussions of "post-feminism" are usually met with an open attitude. The "-post" of post-feminism is a word indicating that feminism has achieved its primary goals (equality), so any further bitching on the part of the "feminist" constitutes "wallowing in victimhood," as one Barnard student put it. In many areas, modern-minded women can see the argument, here. At least they can parry a good argument against it.
But, in regards to rape and sexual abuse? The numbers don't match that philosophy. Plain and simple: 1 out of every 6 women is sexually abused, assaulted or raped [Raain]. What a staggering statistic. Roiphe would have us believe that we live in a "rape-sensitive community," where "consent" is too gray a term to define, and in which women find themselves more confined by fear of sexuality, than liberated by sex.
The women at Barnard, according to Staal, seem to relish in this prospect. They confirm that they, themselves, feel safe in their environments, and the anti-violence campaign that raises awareness for rape and assault victims is overwrought and obnoxious, in so many words. "I know guys are pretty turned off by it."
What a nice pedestal of safety to look down from, Barnard girls. But, in my experience, this is not the case on the "lower-class" campus. Almost every woman I have encountered in my Women's Studies classes has had an experience of their own, or can cite the experience of a friend or family member, who has been affected by rape and sexual assault. If they're not personally affected by assault, many of the women combat misogyny on a daily basis. Based on the culture from which they were raised, be it a lower-class urban environment, or a religious or ethnic cultural divide, these women face real-life-experience with women-hating, women-disrespecting, women-using, women-hitting, women-raping. I would never imply that rich girls have no problems or issues with violence, but I will imply that poor girls likely see a lot more of it.
And the attitude of women suggesting the campaign against sexual assault is so '90s need to wake the fuck up. Incidentally, Stephanie Staal is taken aback by the attitude of her classmates about the reality of sexual assault, and talks about her experience growing up in the "rape-crazed 1990s" - but does she verbalize this in a class discussion? Does she pick this issue apart as much as the scene where she had a hard time making eggs for her daughter's breakfast? Nope. She waxes poetic about how she felt Roiphe was "lonely" and searching for meaning, before translating that experience back to her own issues. I mean, come on!
What I hope is this: Staal, not finding rape a topic relatable enough to her own current experience, downplayed the course discussion of sexual violence against women. She had more pressing navel-gazing to do, and let the topic slide-off, unexamined. Because if the state of "elite education" is that students in Women's Studies classrooms are no longer discussing violence against women, even if those women belong to another social class or even another national or religious identity, and are instead rolling their eyes at activism, we are in a sorry fuckin state.
2. The discussion of Baghdad Burning, a blog by Iraqi war survivor, Riverbend.
I'll try and keep this brief. I'm betting that the inclusion of this text into the curriculum is to provide the Fem Texts students with a contemporary post-colonial feminist viewpoint. Full disclosire: I haven't read Baghdad Burning, so my problem here lies only in the lack of insight about this text, as provided by Stephanie Staal.
For all the discussion that one could have about an Iraqi woman's experience of the United States "War On Terror," about a nation occupied and under siege, about violence and liberty and feminist gains lost in a short matter of years, you know what Staal takes from the text and ends her book with? "Professor H. was obviously excited by the possibilities of the internet.... Riverbend was...becoming part of a new generation of women successfully using the internet to amplify their voices."
O-kay. That might be true, but what a confined, off-topic, strange little bit to take away from a text. The tone of the book by the time that summary hits - happy, exclamatory, wrappin'it'up - is surely ironic, no? The experiences of war, of oppression, wrapped up into a sentence about how the internet is good for feminists? I just don't know, Stephanie Staal. Honestly.
Anyway - The discussions of the chapters above point to one conclusion, in my opinion: For Staal, feminism is not about social justice. It never has been. It seems to be about a way to make herself feel better about culminating an identity. Just so you know, I DO NOT disagree with this notion, per se. Be existential. Define your own narrative over and over. What ever gets you through the night, babygirl. But, is it sufficient? My opinion? Nah - it makes for a useless book. A quick, not-bad, kind-of-interesting, useless book.
If you like books about the daily drudge and frustration of marriage and mommyhood, with some oversimplified cultural theory thrown in like a stack of mail on a cluttered coffee table, I guess this book is for you (?)(less)
Here's the deal: The two stars - those are for me. To someone who has read a fair amount about children/gender and feminism in general, Orenstein does...moreHere's the deal: The two stars - those are for me. To someone who has read a fair amount about children/gender and feminism in general, Orenstein does not offer anything new. If I was a new or future-mom, however, an average middle-class mom who hasn't read what could be considered a "feminist" book since college (or possibly never!), or just one who finds most children's toys essentially "harmless," I think this book could be a real eye-opener - I think it could easily deserve three or four stars...
The strong points of this book, in my opinion, are the author's voice, her ability to be concise, and the pace of the book itself. Orenstein can be a funny lady - her social observations and anecdotal style make this book a surprisingly fun, fast read. Her voice is likeable, believable, and (perhaps, most importantly) familiar. Most of the time, I believe that Orenstein, herself, does seem to embody the idea of a typical middle-class USA mom. Either by journalistic license or in her genuine character, Orenstein wrote Cinderella Ate My Daughter in a decidedly mainstream tone and for a decidedly mainstream audience.
I don't think I'm remiss in saying that even women who consider themselves in favor of womens' rights, equality, tolerance - don't use the label "Feminist" very often. And neither does Orenstein. Mainstream US society has taught us to fear that particular label, to avoid it. So, for the most part, even though she is raising a feminist argument, Orenstein does avoid calling it that most of the time. This choice, I think, allows her book to reach a more mainstream audience. It scares most Americans to be considered out of the "mainstream," (especially if one is a journalist - like Orenstein, who observes 'the mainstream' and reports on it). If Orenstein is trying to seem the "everymom," she really pulls it off.
Orenstein, echoing the sentiment of what I believe is a lot of people in this country, attempts to have the "best" of both worlds by participating in and enjoying the safety of mainstream culture (Look! My children and I lead "normal," healthy lives!), and criticizing it and advocating change at the same time (Look! We consider these activities and attitudes "normal," and we shouldn't - they are harmful!). People attempting this (people like...me!) can come off conflicted/confused because they're attempting to reconcile what is seemingly impossible.
As a result, what Orenstein doesn't quite bring to the table is conviction. In her attempt to reconcile living in the mainstream/criticizing the mainstream, she often builds up a great deal of heated conviction in the beginnings and middles of her chapters on specific topics (princesses, American Girl Dolls, Barbie, fairy tales, Disney, mixed-gender play, consumerism/advertising, child beauty pageants), but then lets her arguments wither away by the end of the chapters into a series of confused questions. While this ambivalence may mirror what some mainstream parents feel toward the culture they live in, it makes for a weak argument. And this is why this book, in my opinion, only deserves two stars.
Furthermore, by "kind-of-but-not-exactly" labeling her argument or herself as "feminist" - she does an even further disservice to her readers by pushing the word (the lifestyle, the criticism) slightly to the side, once again - where "feminist" can be side-stepped, rather than better defined. Taboo, rather than common. Ignored, rather than embraced.
I did appreciate Orenstein bringing an essentially (watered-down) feminist criticism to mainstream moms. Perhaps they can find use for it, perhaps they can begin questioning their child-rearing decisions more often than they currently do (I know she has inspired me to think about my own future-momness). Maybe to a mainstream American mom, Orenstein is asking questions about and criticizing a culture that they had not had the inclination to formally engage with before now...Maybe a dose of "feminist-lite" can prove more helpful than no criticism at all. (less)