Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Symptoms of Being Human



"As for wondering if it's okay to be who you are--that's not a symptom of mental illness. That's a symptom of being a person."
-Jeff Garvin, Symptoms of Being Human

As a scholar interested in the way that gender is represented within young adult books, I'm always on the look out for any book that breaks gender binaries, and this book definitely fit the bill. While browsing at Barnes and Noble one day (a frequent occasion for me), this book caught my eye because it featured a genderfluid protagonist, something that isn't seen often (if at all) in young adult literature. So I obviously had to read it to see if it was any good, right? Right.

Symptoms of Being Human follows the story of Riley, a genderfluid teenager who begins an anonymous blog at the prompting of their therapist, to help deal with anxiety. But the blog takes off in a way that Riley could have never imagined, quickly gaining hundreds of followers overnight, not all of them wishing Riley well. Someone at Riley's new school knows Riley's secret and is threatening to expose them; Riley must decide between shutting down a blog that has become a lifeline for others, or to risk everything and finally come out and take a stand in their ultra-conservative community.

So I loved this book. I absolutely loved it. I thought that Jeff Garvin did a fantastic job writing a realistic account of not only genderfluidity (from my own limited knowledge and perspective), but also realistically portrayed anxiety and panic attacks. Holistically, I think Garvin created a story that many different teens can relate to, one that might be important in showing them that they aren't alone, that others are experiencing the things that they do. Sometimes when authors deal with these kinds of issues it can feel fake or like the book is doing too much, but in this case, I think the elements that Garvin combined worked really well together, not only making the story accurate, but also engaging. I was rooting for Riley throughout the entire book, and I didn't wan to put the book down until I knew Riley's fate.

The other thing I really enjoyed about this book is that Riley is never assigned a gender identity besides genderfluid. There are perhaps a few instances where the reader might be able to deduce the gender that Riley was "assigned," but nothing in Garvin's language actually gives it away, and that's definitely not an easy thing to do. I've tried to write stories where the characters aren't gendered, and there are so many little things that you don't really think about being stereotypically assigned to one gender or another until someone else reads your story and points it out. I applaud Garvin for working to eliminate that within his book, and except for a few small (very, very small) scenes, for instance getting dressed for one of Riley's dad's fundraisers or the ending scene of the book, I think the book 100% sticks to Riley's identity. And I think that makes this book even more deserving of praise.

All in all, a great read that I would highly recommend, and one that I might just read again.

5/5 stars

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

House of Leaves


"We all create stories to protect ourselves."
-Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves


Admittedly, this book took me a while to get through, not because of the story or the writing, but purely because of the way that the book is written. Not only are there copious amounts of footnotes (that can sometimes be pages long), but the text could be backwards, upside down, struck through, etc. However, I believe these methods add to the nature of the story, which is two stories weaved into one. One follows Johnny Truant, publishing a book left behind by a man named Zampano, becoming increasing more haunted as the story goes on. The second is the actual story that Zampano wrote, which follows follows the Navidson family, who find a new section of their house upon returning from a trip, which is always shifting and changing, haunting those that explore it. The book gets increasingly creepier as the text goes on, furthered by the way that the text is formatted.

The strongest aspect about this book is the way that it is written. It took the author years to write it, and the effort definitely paid off. I think the most fascinating thing about it is the fact that the format just increases the anxiety that the reader is already feeling from the characters. Not only are they exploring this house that is constantly expanding, haunted by the growling, but anxiety is created in the reader because of the complex form, trying to figure out the way the text is connected, intermittently being interrupted by Truant's story. It's fascinatingly complex, and though it took me a while to read, it was definitely worth it. But definitely not for those that don't like horror, because this book is definitely creepy.

5/5 stars.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Carry On


“You have to pretend you get an endgame. You have to carry on like you will; otherwise, you can't carry on at all.” 
-Rainbow Rowell, Carry On

When I started this book, I wasn't expecting it to suck me into that black hole that sucks you in when you've found a truly amazing story. I've loved every single thing that I've read by Rainbow Rowell, and this book was no exception. The moment I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. Simon and Baz and the magical world that Rowell created and fully captured my attention.

Carry On is a spin-off novel from Rowell's last book, Fangirl, giving readers the context to the fanfiction that Cath writes in that book (also a phenomenal book, highly recommend). However, this book completely works as a stand alone book as well. Though this way Rowell's first foray into fantasy, and you can see the influence of Harry Potter (I mean, she used to write Harry Potter fanfiction, and who doesn't love Harry Potter anyway?), but I think it's different enough that you can't say that she completely copied her world from Rowling. The way magic is used in Simon and Baz's world is completely different than Harry's world. 

And oh my god, the characters. The dialogue. The descriptions. If there's anything that Rowell does uniquely well, it's these three things. Definitely had a book hangover after this book, because I just didn't want to stop reading about Simon, Baz, and Penny. Rowell slowly draws you into the story at the beginning, and once Baz enters the picture, you've lost all hope. The chemistry between Baz and Simon was magnificent, adorable, and shows Rowell's ability to write romantic relationships. 

All in all, I absolutely loved this book, and it's been awhile since I've read a book that I fell completely head over heels for. So go! Read it! And then go and read all of Rowell's other books too, because they are just as good.

5/5 stars.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I'll Give You the Sun


"Maybe some people are just meant to be in the same story." 
-Jandy Nelson, I'll Give You the Sun

It's definitely been a while since I've updated this blog, but now that I've finished my Master's, I actually have the time to read what I want to read (gasp). And trust me, the list is ever growing. A common side effect of being a book lover.

I've read a lot of new YA stuff this summer that I've been meaning to read, but I'm going to start with the most recent one I finished, as that one is most fresh in my mind, I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

At the age of 13, twins Jude and Noah are almost inseparable; Noah is quiet and isolated, always sketching and following around the neighbor boy, where Jude is daredevil enough for the both of them. Flash forward 3 years, and their relationship has completely disintegrated. As Noah tells the story of the past, and Jude tells the story of the future, the twins learn that the only way they'll be able to move forward is by reconciling their relationship.

The major aspect I think this book gets props for is its use of the multi-narrator. This narrative device has become all the rage in the YA world; looking through this section in any bookstore, a good majority of the books that you pick up are going to have at least 2, if not more, narrators. If done well, this isn't a bad thing, as it allows authors to bring more voices into their stories, maybe include more diversity, etc. This book stands out from those because the two narrators are also from two different points in the narrators' lives: when they are 13 and when they are 16. This device pulls the reader in right from the beginning, sparking curiosity and moving the plot forward at a nice pace.

This wasn't the only strength of this book: there were some really beautiful lines, and the characterization was phenomenal. As you get more and more into Noah and Jude's heads, you keep moving forward because you just want them to get back to where they used to be, to mend their relationship. Their pain, their struggles felt so real, and I think they're relatable, no matter who picks up this book.

I think the only major critique I have is that some of the supernatural stuff threw me off slightly at the beginning, but it didn't take long for me to adjust to it in the narrative. Otherwise, this is phenomenal read, and a story that will linger in your mind once it's over.

4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Hunger Games

So I think I've blogged about The Hunger Games multiple times on this site, but each time I read it, I get a new-found appreciation for it. This read through was specifically for a class that I am taking this semester called the Heroic Tradition in Children's Literature. So far, we have read The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Hobbit, The 101 Dalmatians, and Rilla of Ingleside. It has been an interesting class so far, and the rest of the semester proves to be the same.

Now, The Hunger Games. I think by now, most people know what this book is about, but I will give a very brief synopsis. Every year, Panem puts on the Hunger Games, a competition where children between the ages of 12 and 17 fight to the death in an arena like setting, for the "entertainment" of the rest of the country. Katniss Everdeen has grown up in this society and only worries about one thing: keeping her younger sister, Prim, out of the Hunger Games.

With the third movie coming out in November, The Hunger Games is a hot topic at the moment, though I would argue that it has been a hot topic since it first came out in 2008. And for good reason. The Hunger Games is fast-paced, and always keeps the readers turning the pages. In high school, when I first read the book, I was in a book club called BBYA, where our librarians would get galley copies of books, and we would read them, and then meet on a regular basis to discuss these books. I remember when they got a copy of The Hunger Games and told everyone they absolutely had to read it. And everyone did. And we were all obsessed. While the subject of The Hunger Games is gruesome and at parts, difficult to read, Katniss Everdeen is such a riveting character that we're all drawn to her, to find out what happens. How will the story pan out?

The Hunger Games can't be read without getting any of the social commentary, which I think is more present in this book than most other YA dystopian novels (like Divergent or The Maze Runner for example). With the way Suzanne Collins has set up the Districts in the novel, it can be considered representative of our own class system in the United States. The upper class lives in luxury, in safety, while the lower classes struggle to survive day to day. Personally, I think this is one of the things that draws me to this book every time. The Hunger Games sends a powerful message, and it is so eerily similar to our own society that it isn't hard to picture this happening to us as well. While our society is steadily falling apart (just look at the news on any given day), we read dystopian novels to remind ourselves that it could be worse, that it hasn't gotten quite that bad yet. The government is sending kids to kill each other. The sun hasn't scorched the Earth. There aren't zombies running around trying to kill us. We're still surviving, and dystopian novels give us the hope that if something did happen, we would still have the chance to survive.

But back to The Hunger Games. Writing wise, Suzanne Collins does a good job of setting the scene, and creating a realistic picture of the society she's created. By narrating it in first person from Katniss's point of view, the reader can feel like he/she is really in the story, experience Katniss's experiences firsthand. And why wouldn't they want to be Katniss? She's brave, selfless, and doesn't take anything from anyone. She's willing to do anything for her sister, Prim, who's sweet and kind and the type of little sister anyone would want. Peeta and Gale (while creating that ever present love triangle) are fleshed out, foils of each other. The novel is well-crafted, and hints at things to come in later novels, things that will allow Collins to bring the story full circle.

I could probably go on and on about The Hunger Games, so I will stop here. But if you haven't read it yet, I would highly recommend it. You'll finish it in one night, I almost guarantee it. I don't think we have any reading for this class for a few weeks, so I'm sure what I'll be reading next. I'll pull something off my bookshelf for sure. Until next time, happy reading! :)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Giver



Because the movie came out a few months ago, I figured it was time that I re-read The Giver, since I generally like to read the book before I see the movie, and I haven't read this particular book since I was in 5th grade. I remembered liking it then, so I figured that much probably hasn't changed since I read it all those years ago.

The Giver follows the story of Jonas, who lives in an apparently perfect Community. Everything is assigned to its citizens, there are no conflicts, and if there are, they are taken care of quickly. At the age of 12, residents are assigned their career. On Jonas's 12th birthday, he is assigned the role of The Giver, who holds all the memories of the past. Through The Giver, Jonas will learn the truth about the society he lives in.

In 5th grade, my teacher read this book out loud to us, and I remember the whole class being appalled at the end of the book. It's an open ending, one that 5th graders don't respond well to. However, now that I'm older, I've come to appreciate open endings, because it represents life. Life doesn't end perfectly, so why should the stories that we read? This is why I appreciated the ending of the book, because it leaves it up to the reader. What really happened to Jonas? What will happen to the Community he left? These questions aren't answered for us, we must answer them for ourselves.

Other than the ending, The Giver is a short read, but a thoroughly enjoyable one. I think it can be considered one of the first young adult dystopian novels, but don't quote me on that. Jonas was very well characterized throughout the novel, I sympathized with him and wanted him to make it. I also thought that the society was very well constructed, and honestly, one that I could see happening to our own society. Jonas's Community is very controlling, and with all of the restrictions being placed in our own society, this makes Jonas's present a very real future for us. I think that's the thing that keeps people reading dystopian novels. Yes, the state of our future is scary, but we read these stories to know that somehow, we can make it out. That somehow, we'd survive if any of these things happen to us, because the characters in the stories we read did. These stories give us hope.

Overall, The Giver is a fast-paced, quick read, one that would supplement a busy semester perfectly. If you're looking for something to read for enjoyment, I would definitely recommend this book. Next, I'll likely be reading something for class, I think The Hunger Games is next? Perfect timing, with the movie coming out in a month. :) Until next time, happy reading!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mockingjay

Because the trailer just released, and the movie comes out in November, I decided to re-read Mockingjay, just because. I'm the type of person who likes to re-read books anyway, and this just seemed like the perfect excuse. And let me tell you, it's still just as good the third (or fourth?) time you read it.

For those of you that don't know (which I doubt is many, The Hunger Games series is very popular), Mockingjay is the final installment, thought I don't think I can give much of a summary without giving away anything from the last two books. Basically, Katniss has sparked a rebellion (which I would guess you would expect) and this book really sees that escalate.

Side note: I can't guarantee that I won't include any spoilers from here on out. So continue at your own risk if you have not read the book.

When Mockingjay originally came out, I feel that it was met with a lot of negativity, at least from the fan base. And I feel like a major reason for that is it isn't quite a happy ending. Everyone loves happy endings, I guess it's because it's what everyone wants in their own life. For everything to work out, to end up happily ever after. Why wouldn't people want that for their favorite characters? But the thing you have to remember is that in a war, there really aren't any happy endings. And that's what Mockingjay is, essentially, a war. People suffer. And I think Suzanne Collins does an excellent job of that. In a war, no one is the winner, really. Both sides suffer losses, both sides experience pain. And that can clearly be seen through this particular rebellion. Even though we as readers hate everything that the Capitol does, you can't deny that there are innocents in the Capitol, who didn't really deserve to die. They didn't have anything to do with the conflict, and yet they still perished in the war.

Next, I shall move onto Katniss. Katniss, who is probably one of my favorite characters, is so completely broken at the beginning of this book. And for good reason. She's been through two Hunger Games, more than anyone should ever have to bear, and believes she's lost the one person who could ever understand, Peeta. Peeta and Katniss's relationship really transformed in Catching Fire, in my opinion. In The Hunger Games, it was clearly and obviously something for show, so Katniss could survive and make it back to her family. But in Catching Fire, Katniss realizes that Peeta is the only one who can ever really understand what she's been through. Peeta is the only one who can comfort her, and she realizes she really does care for him, perhaps more so than anyone else does. So the loss of Peeta is something that sets her over the edge. And something that Gale can't really understand. Which brings me to the other point of contention between fans. Peeta or Gale? I believe by the time you get to Mockingjay, it's clear who's good for Katniss and who isn't. Though, in my opinion, that's completely missing point. This series isn't about the romance (no matter what the media makes it out to be), and Katniss even believes that she doesn't need either of them. She's perfectly happy on her own. But anyway. Back to Gale. What I think makes it so obvious that they're not compatible in this book is the way they both react to the rebellion. Gale has a fire in him, a fire that Katniss has known her whole life. He doesn't care about people getting hurt, as long as the Capitol is brought down. And while Katniss agrees with bringing down the Capitol, she doesn't agree with Gale's tactics. Despite her icy manner, Katniss doesn't want more people to get hurt. And I think that shows why they could never work in a romantic relationship. And especially after the end of Mockingjay...she could never forgive him for what happened.

In thinking about the way this book will be transferred to film, I think it will be slightly difficult, because a lot of the book takes place in Katniss's head (which I suppose is a lot like the others, but since she has so much PTSD and other trauma, that will be difficult to portray on screen). But given the way Catching Fire was done, I have faith in this movie. The only thing I fear with the whole film franchise is that we're acting almost the same way, at least the media is, that the Capitol does in the series. With The Hunger Games, there was potential in creating conversation about some things that are seriously wrong with our society. Because The Hunger Games brings a lot of those things to light (which I'm sure you can find all over the internet. This post is already long enough, haha). However, instead, the advertising surrounding Mockingjay and this whole franchise is centered around fashion. There's maeup lines, clothing lines, etc. Not to mention, the characters were white-washed, and all people do is focus on whether Katniss will end up with Peeta or Gale. This is problematic. The Hunger Games points out a lot of things that are wrong with out society, socioeconomic discrimination, violence in children, controlling governments, etc. And we're not having conversations about them. We're trivializing them. Which is sad. This book series is so powerful, in my opinion, and I think it deserves so much conversation. Maybe we can spark something with the last movie release. After all, everything starts with a spark, doesn't it?