Posted in 2018, 2019, Children's Stories, Fiction

Maleficent by Elizabeth Rudnick

I must confess, I started reading this book during Thanksgiving 2018, in order to get away from my family. I was reading out loud in order to tune out the conversation being had in the living room. My niece overheard me and came to the room. Then my other niece came and they just became my audience, equally engrossed in the story.

Eventually, the day ended and I was only 50 pages in. Afterward, every time I visited, my niece wanted me to read to her.  This became her new bedtime story. My niece is 10 years old and loved the story.

I am not 10 years old but I too enjoyed the story. I did see the movie so I knew how it ended but it’s still fun reading about it. I love books where the villains are really good people (Wicked changed my perspective on the world).

I was never a fan of Sleeping Beauty when I was younger. I thought it was a joke that she fainted from pricking her finger in a spinning wheel. I didn’t understand the story very much and to be honest, the dragon, in the end, scared me (now I love dragons).

However, Maleficent is far from boring. The love story between her and Stephan is gag-worthy but the betrayal is juicy. Now, I do see how incompatible it is to have a good faery named Maleficent. They should have given her a name, then changed it to a Maleficent after she placed the curse in Aurora. A good example would be how Elphaba (in Wicked) was Elphaba before she became the “Wicked Witch of the West” (The Wizard of Oz). Let Maleficent be the name of her legacy, not her real name.

Spoilers ahead:

This book, unfortunately, did not have enough character development. I would have loved to see more chapters with Diaval and Maleficient alone just to gauge their dynamic without interruption. I would have liked to read more chapters with Aurora in the Moors to know exactly when Maleficent fell in love with her (as a daughter of course). I would have liked to read more about her childhood just to contrast how much she has changed. I wanted to get to know Maleficient more as a character and not just a victim of circumstances.

This book was released a month before the movie came out. I understand it was a marketing technique from Disney to get fans excited. I understand that the book is based on the movie and not the other way around. I still enjoyed the story so I could let it pass, but I do feel they have a great character and should do much more with her. With that said, there is a sequel to the movie coming out October 18, 2019, so, fingers crossed that they do her justice.

Featured Image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21949771-maleficent

Posted in 2018, Fiction, LGBTQ, young adult

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

This was awful. I, at first, really liked our protagonist Leila because…what’s not to love? Persian closetted lesbian who hates working out and is constantly feeling disappointed with the fact that she will never be better than her older sister. All traits of an interesting character.

Then we meet the possible love interest whom we don’t really get to spend time with knowing because we are too busy being in Leila’s fantasy world whenever she is around her.

Tess, Lisa, Greg and the tech crew were far more interesting than the love interest. But because she was so infatuated with Saskia (the love interest) we don’t really get to know more about them other than surface identities. But that whole fantasy fiasco ends as quickly as it started and it just feels like a bad soap opera that is trying too hard to be dramatic. I wish there was more substance to the story…to the main character.

It just all felt…fake (and yes I know its fiction). It felt like a dream where you lose track of time but the story still keeps going and dragging you along with it. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t really boring….but it also wasn’t impactful.

Oh! And the ending is so abrupt! That was perhaps the most painful part (I actually screenshot it and texted my friend texting “what the fuck”.) I mean, if you want to be cheesy….then own it. No shame in cheesy endings but…abrupt endings? Now unless there is a sequel (or spinoff…preferably in Lisa’s perspective) to this, I feel robbed of a world.

We were barely getting to know the real Leila…the Leila not hidden from the world or the fear of her parents lack of undestanding and we get absolutely nowhere with that freedom. I mean come on! There aren’t that many stories with Middle Easters lesbians and we only got a glimpse of it. Nothing new (except the language) that I haven’t read from other religious characters realizing they are gay.

It wasn’t all bad though. I liked how the author kept slightly foreshadowing the ending so when it gets to it, it’s a sigh of relief. It’s cute (butterfly in stomach, blushing kind of cute). But it’s really not worth the read. She just spent her attention in all the wrong places. But maybe that’s the point. I know when I was a teenager I focused on all the wrong things. Which if that was the point to the story, then this book is actually brilliant! I, personally, just wanted more out of her already interesting characters.  She paints a picture but never finishes is. If this were a movie, it would be great! Straight to the point and everything. But as a novel, we (well, the author anyway) have more freedom to tap into more lives.  But maybe she didn’t want to overcomplicate things.

Either way, probably wouldn’t recommend this one. Then again, I’m not the targetted audience. I feel like the targetted audience spans from 13-16 year olds.

Posted in 2018, Fiction, LGBTQ

Minotaur by J.A. Rock

This book is very well written…but badly executed. I read it because, 1) I have a thing for bull drawings (see cover) and 2) it was featured in Pride’s month reading recommendation.

I personally felt as if it were two different books merged together. You have the book of the Rock Point home….and then you have the book of the Labyrinth. Both stood well alone, but combining them felt disappointing.

I would have settled for a longer book if it had better action. My guess is that the author originally wanted to make the labyrinth scene, but then fell in love with the back story and focused more on that than on the labyrinth itself.

The labyrinth, full of promise and spooky potential, was treated like a badly managed circus. It’s not that I have an issue that a complete amateur was able to survive the place, it’s that she didn’t even get hurt. Yes, she got tricked, but she, for the most part, suffered outside of the Labyrinth way more than she did inside. How then, can I be convinced that the Labyrinth is a scary place?

The flow of the second part of the book felt like those unnecessarily dramatic stories that you can read to children to scare them. This differs from the beginning which felt more young adult and self-actualization.  

Our protagonist, although a teenager, has the emotional mindset of a child. That’s probably what made her interesting. Child-like heart but adult-like brain (or at least she wanted to act adult, anyway).

The love interest isn’t really about love….but about need and want. That, however, inspired the best quotes!

The character development is uninteresting since regardless of the circumstances, they were all haunted by their pasts. The character relationships were well thought out though.

The Beast was probably the biggest disappointment. Maybe that was the point. To not give us such an obvious villain. Or clever yet, to instate that the real villain isn’t the Beast, but society. The Beast then, becoming relatable.

Favorite Quotes:

We are all a step away from goodness cracking  under our feet and collapsing us into villany.

Loss, violence, bullying, starvation, boredom, the promise of beauty or fame or sex–chances are there is something somewhere you’d turn wicked for. Innocence starts to look haggard with age, same as skin.

My tantrums, my rotten words, the joy my fists took in meeting flesh–those were to distract others from seeing all the spots the spear could go. Until one woman stripped me truly bare, and together we built an armor that rendered me both powerful and humble. It looked so right on me that seeing myself in it for the first time.

Rivulets of grief, sliding down their bones, blushes of it in their cheeks. They suffered because they were lonely in a way people seldom talk about, a way that affects grace and movement and dreams and memory.

Perhaps we believed that if we never acted like adults, we’d never be forced out into the wider world to confront the magnitude of our desolation.

Loneliness is like having a wound sewn shut with barbed thread. We close off the parts of ourselves that are open to others and pretend to embrace the privacy of our bodies–and yet we do the closing with something that will hurt every time we move. That will remind us of the secrets we’ve tried to stow away.

I didn’t give a shit about being pretty. Yet it’s hard sometimes, in a world that promises you the most basic treasures in exchange for being a looked-upon thing, not to wish your face had been a better construct.

A soldier-ish loyalty grew on me ivy-thick, and I started to feel less like an awkward angry child and more like a warrior, with followers and a destiny and a tortured soul.

Bad things, I thought, can’t hurt you if you pursue them with devotion.

I’d spent a fair portion of my life taking, but I could now see the appeal of doing the opposite. Could imagine that it was its own sort of power, to do murder on somebody’s heart with a gift.

That’s a little blunt

I think our wishes often get as muddled as dreams. In our wishes, people are their better selves and walls lose their permanence, and no matter how heavily we populate our fantasies with friends, with family, with lovers–we are ultimately in them alone.

I don’t know why it works this way–that we blame the one who shatters the illusion, rather than the illusion itself, or ourselves for buying into it.

Shame is perhaps both a form of self-pity and a form of loneliness. In the heat of embarrassment, it’s possible to believe you are the only one who has ever felt such guilt, such a profound understanding of what an impossibility evil thing the self is.

388073c6-914c-43fc-bda1-028dd50234cc-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1 Love, love, love that one!

I didn’t want to be shy or delicate. I wanted to know what it was like to ravage a body with a misguided admiration for it. To know that skin got in the way of the truth of the person, and yet that truth, that soul, was untouchable, and so you had to settle for skin.

When you fall in love with someone, you fall in love not only with her face and eyes and heart, but with her vision of the world. Love leaves no room to stand back and pity another’s delusions. You share them. You join hands lying down and draw an arc across the sky and tell a story about what a cloud looks like, a story that becomes your shared truth.

382b7cef-c3d4-491e-8a19-8752ba27133e-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1

You can’t unleash an act of good to tame a tragedy.

It’s not that revenge has no place in the world. But we so often clamp our jaws around the things we think we want, while the real prizes escape between our teeth, slide down our necks in rivers and are lost in our skin.

I always thought loneliness must be a quiet thing. Up all night with frog sounds, wandering an empty room by day, resenting the sun squares on the floor. Guilt too seemed like it ought to be a silent kind of suffering. But what was going on inside me was a filthy and violent underground. Jeers and wagers and the sound of creature versus creature.

I do not want the truth gone from me. I do not want only stories. What stories do to heroes is edge out the things that make them bravest–their insecurities and wrongdoings, their trashing-tailed desire for self-preservation. The way they sharpen their love with a quiet, occasional contempt for the object of it. We paint heroes in broad strokes–nameable virtues and forgivable flaws. They brood, yes, but they are never paralyzed by self-loathing. They kill, but only monsters.

Courage without fear is simply recklessness.

I could have fucked her until our cries twined and drowned out the music of suffering.

6dcbc62c-0b2e-4197-957c-de22ce1c2717-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1

Miss Ridges had said once that reading meant nothing unless you could articulate what a story had given you. But I’d always disagreed–though I’d never found the words to argue. You didn’t have to be able to analyze to appreciate a story. You had only to be able to feel, deep in a place that didn’t deal in words, how that story was yours and everyone else’s too.

I don’t know which one I believe in.

“Violence starts as a discovery–of power, of ambition. Of a force that rests with its head against your heart. It is always there–a shadow, featureless. Until you turn a certain way, and the silhouette resolves itself. You see the nose, the lips, the curve of the shoulder. You see what you are capable of. You feel both the danger and the ordinariness of it. Because in the end, the blood comes out of each of us the same way. And one dead human, weighed against the world and the galaxy and everything beyond, means very little.” She paused. “Every act of violence is a disappointment before it even begins.”

5b8bb193-be92-43af-8542-64710654691b-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1

 

Overall, I don’t think I would recommend this book. The end doesn’t justify the means.

Featured image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25866851-minotaur

 

Posted in 2018, Becky Albertalli, Fiction, LGBTQ

Simon VS The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

NON-SPOILER REVIEW

Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a fun read. It’s also a fast read. I spent a whole day trying to be productive only to find myself back in bed with the book unable to spend more than an hour away from it. If this were a relationship, my friends would have an intervention to stop my clinginess. In short, it’s addictive.

What makes Simon Vs The Home Sapiens Agenda different than most LGBT books is that Simon isn’t ashamed of being gay. He is more afraid of someone outing his online love interest: Blue. The reason he doesn’t want to come out himself is that he doesn’t want to be treated like a different person. He knows his family and friends will accept him but he doesn’t know how it will affect how they act around him.

I love Albertalli’s version of coming out. It’s not about declaring your sexuality, but rather, any change of your personality is a version of coming out. Whether you suddenly decide you’re going to be in a band or you started drinking coffee, anything that alters the perception of you is a form of coming out to the world. It’s neat that it’s comparable to little things because sometimes, coming out as gay seems like a monumental change when in reality, in this day and age, it is far more accepted than a decade ago (depending on where you live and your belief system, of course).

Simon has three best friends; Nick, Leah (Albertalli announced a sequel called Leah on the Off-Beat), and Abby. He has a younger sister who goes to the same high school and an older sister in college. His parents are happily married. The story basically centers around him trying to find out the identity of Blue while keeping it secret from his friends and family. The storyline might sound boring but because life happens, it’s actually interesting. Since he is not constantly beating himself up, like most LGBT books, it’s not as emotionally draining.

Warning: if you read this book, you might develop a strong craving for Oreos.

8f4aa0ab-bc3e-45db-892d-95ff48d6f274-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1

Favorite Quotes (some contain spoilers)

“Thanks, but I’m driving.” says Leah. But she wouldn’t be drinking if she wasn’t driving. I know that. Because there’s this invisible line, and on one side are people like Garrett and Abby and Nick and every musician ever. People who go to parties and drink and don’t get wasted off of one beer. People who have had sex and don’t think it’s a huge deal.

I like this quote because it perfectly sums out how I felt as a teenager. The outside of popular kids who go to parties and can talk to strangers without overanalyzing everything.

I know this is weird, but I make my bed every single day, even though the rest of my room is a hellscape of paper and laundry and books and clutter. Sometimes I feel like my bed is a lifeboat.

I like this quote because before I read this book, I saw a video where a soldier was saying “If you want to save the world, start by making your bed.” But I can also relate in the sense that if my bed is made, I feel like I can breathe when I walk into my room. There is something about it being made that brings a sense of calm. And if it’s unmade, I not only feel tired, I feel the overwhelmingness of my future that I was trying to avoid the whole day. Lifeboat, indeed.

My mom was the one who got obsessed with the idea that I had a girlfriend even though I had never had one before. I don’t know why that came as such a freaking surprise to her, since I’m pretty sure most people start out never having had one.

This was just hilarious. And true.

But I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.

This twist on coming out has been comforting. He didn’t see his sexual preference any different than all these little changes in habits. “Before I didn’t drink coffee, now I do.” “Before I wasn’t sure I liked boys, now I know.” It’s a life-changing moment, but not in the typical sense of life-changing. Not in the way that it feels like EVERYTHING is going to be different…just a part of you. It reminds me of a study that I was told about where people assume the life-changing events are big, like moving to a new home or changing careers…but in actuality, life-changing events are small, like reading a good book or watching an impactful movie. These things that you can do on your leisure time that do not require much thought about how it is impacting your life. That might not be a fair comparison since Simon did think about it…a lot. But you get the point, I hope. Coming out is just an addition to your personality; not the entirety of your personality.

I actually hate when people say that. I mean, I feel secure in my masculinity, too. Being secure in your masculinity isn’t the same as being straight.

Funny. Never thought about it like this.

They don’t have a clue. They don’t even know I’m gay.
And I don’t know how to do this. Ever since I told Abby on Friday, I kind of thought it would be easy to tell Leah and Nick. Easier, anyway, now that my mouth is used to saying the words.
It’s not easier. It’s impossible. Because even though it feels like I’ve known Abby forever, I really only met her four months ago. And I guess there hasn’t been time for her to have any set ideas about me yet. But I’ve known Leah since sixth grade, and Nick since we were four. And this gay thing. It feels so big. It’s almost insurmountable. I don’t know how to tell them something like this and still come out of it feeling like Simon. Because if Leah and Nick don’t recognize me, I don’t even recognize myself anymore.

2d7202eb-7380-4e61-bb10-fe0cea0c76f8-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1That last sentence is heartbreaking. It’s also scary. But I get it, as a teenager, you aren’t really an individual yet (yes, there are some exceptions, but for the most part, we are a combination of our friends, families, and education.) Best friends are usually more important than family. Best friends are the family we chose to be a part of and if for whatever reason they stop choosing us…that’s just…emotionally scarring.

Trying not to think about something is like playing freaking Whac-A-Mole. Every time you push one thought down, another one nudges its way to the surface.

5b8bb193-be92-43af-8542-64710654691b-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1I know the feeling!

In this moment, all I want is for things to feel like Christmas again. I  want it to feel how it used to feel.

This reminded me of the post that I saw where someone wrote something similar to this and someone else responded by saying that “we’re growing up” as in Christmas is for kids. When I was in college I joked with my professor that I believed in Santa Clause but the reason he stopped coming is that once we hit puberty, we are naughty by default. So I understand how Christmas feels different. But I think what makes it different is a form of growing up. We lose some sort of innocence when we have to show up and own up to our lives. Essentially, that is what was happening to Simon when he started feeling like this. He had to come out. It made things different because he no longer had the blissful ignorance of wondering what the future would hold. Because he knew. Everyone at school would know. His friends would now know. Blue knew. Things changed. It was no longer an innocent interaction of e-mails with another gay boy from school. It became real. And realness ruins the magic of Christmas. It will never feel that way it used to feel…but that doesn’t mean it will always feel awkward or uncomfortable.

 

PS. The Oreo craving took a month to settle down.

Image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19547856-simon-vs-the-homo-sapiens-agenda

Posted in 2018, John Green, Looking For Alaska

“Looking For Alaska” Discussion Questions

In the end of Looking for Alaska by John Green, he answers fan questions and in return, asks us questions.

Here is my attempt at answering his questions.

  1. Is forgiveness universal? I mean is forgiveness really available to all people, no matter the circumstances? Is it, for instance, possible for the dead to forgive the living, and for the living to forgive the dead?
    Forgiveness is universal but it’s often underutilized. It goes hand in hand with “love and compassion.” Although we are capable of forgiveness, we have a long and seemingly doomed history of wars, hatred, greed and intolerance. Often time, it’s our cultures and religious background (or lack thereof) that make it hard to learn forgiveness. Our pride is our downfall. We care more about status than morals. I’m not really one to judge because I have difficulty forgiving. I, for example, can’t fathom how anyone can forgive a child molester. Even a “born-again Christian”. I do not have the capacity to forgive that. But I am not a God. I am just a person. A person with feelings of arrogance, anger, judgement and entitlement along with feelings of compassion, empathy, sadness, selflessness and  courage. One of my biggest struggles is self-forgiveness. I have perfectionistic tendencies and it makes it near impossible to forgive my own mistakes. A good quote I heard was “Perfectionism is the highest level of spiritual abuse.” Forgiving is a spiritual act. It’s why a lot of religions try to teach it. Comprehending forgiveness is a personal trait, however. Some have it, some don’t. I am ever evolving so I do believe that one day, I can escape the labyrinth of suffering that is lack of forgiveness.
    Whether it is possible for the dead to forgive the living depends on whether or not there is an afterlife. We’ve all seen movies where spirits linger for the sake of vengeance. We’ve seen movies where spirits linger for the sake on knowledge and forgiveness. And of course, if there is nothing after this, there is nothing that can forgive. I feel like the living can forgive the dead (after all, the grudge was on the living entity of whom now the dead represents). It’s easier to forgive after you’ve removed yourself from the situation and now that the variable is gone, you can slowly heal your heart until you’ve reached a state of forgiveness. However, those cases are hard to do in instances of suicide. It’s hard to understand suicidal intentions and most people react in anger.
    But what is dead, really? Friendships can die while both party members continue to breathe and live. Jobs can die, dreams can die. Forgiving myself for my mistakes has proven far more difficult than forgiving a family member for lying or abuse. Is it really forgiving if I can forgive the whole world but not myself? What about people who say they forgive but never forget, is that really forgiving? If the trust is broken and irreparable, you just technically forgave the action but not the consequence. I can write a whole book on this so I’ll stop now.
  2. I would argue that both in fiction and in real life, teenage smoking is a symbolic action. What do you think it’s intended to symbolize, and what does it actually end up symbolizing? To phrase this question differently. Why would anyone ever pay money in exchange for the opportunity to acquire lung cancer and/or emphysema?
    In most stories, smoking for a teenager represents an act of rebellion. They are underage and they are trying to act tougher than the system. For most characters of any age, it represents a sign of discontent or even a feeling of being lost. Characters who are not usually happy with their circumstances pass the moments by smoking (I.E Alaska). Just like most addictions, it is a tool to suppress emotions. Those who are feeling powerless and confused tend to turn to substances faster than those who are truly confident in their character. So although Pudge isn’t really confident about his looks or himself, he is confident about his morals and his personality. The common excuses smokers say is “it calms me down,” “it helps me socialize,” or they simply believe it’s only a momentary habit. The only why I can come up with is that they want to die without committing to dying (just like Alaska). That or peer pressure (just like Pudge). In the case of the Colonel, he is a mixture of angry and low self-esteem. On the surface, he seems like a pretty put together guy, one who just likes to cause pranks. It would be easy to say that he only does it to rebel. But when you look deeper into his character, he is not so sure of himself of his place. It’s kind of what makes him a considerate person. 
  3. Do you like Alaska? Do you think it’s important to like people you read about?
    I liked Alaska in some instances but not in others. I didn’t like her when she kept teasing Pudge. I did like her standards though, on feminism. I think it’s more important to connect to a character than like the people I read about. Even if I hate someone, but I hate them to the point where I am emotionally invested in the character, it can still make for a good story. If I like them, it’s even better. But when I feel indifferent about a character…when they’re a complete snooze to my consciousness, then the book becomes hard to continue reading. During the times when I was annoyed with Alaska, I was still emotionally invested in her. It’s like having that one friend who you tolerate even though you probably want to stay as far away from their drama as possible. That if you saw them at a party, you’d say hi and hug and still care about them even though you’ll instantly regret asking how they’ve been. Alaska hid behind her words. I think that is what was appealing about her. She was honest without being transparent. The attachment came with wanting to know more so you continue reading and reading in the hopes of finding her without any walls. She had depth. 
  4. By the end of this novel, Pudge has a lot to say about immortality and what the point of being alive is (if there is a point). To what extent do your thoughts on mortality shape your understanding of life’s meaning?
    I honestly don’t believe there is a meaning to life, therefore mortality won’t shape my understanding of it. I believe life exists because it needs to. And we are who we are not because the world needs us, but because that is how we were created. Finding purpose is a novel idea. One of my favorite quotes (I forgot who said it) states that a dog does not need to define itself to be a dog, a horse does not need to define himself to be a horse, but a person needs to define himself to be a man. We grow up with this idea that we are better than other species and therefore, we feel like our lives should have purpose. I believe it’s backwards. By redefining ourselves, we lost our purpose. I don’t think we were created just to have jobs or explore the world. I don’t know why we were created but it seems that we have become rather selfish. Other animals exist for the good of the ecosystem. We destroy the ecosystem. The heart can stop whenever it wants to. We can’t really control that. We can take preventative measures but our beliefs won’t change that. Our beliefs shape how we live our lives. It has little to do with life’s meaning and a lot to do on how we define it. But even defining it isn’t enough. I know many people who talk the talk but never walk the walk and ultimately, I think we use religion as a security blanket. I am not looking down on anyone, I love security blankets myself.
    The only correlation I can think of is: urgency. I like the scene in Fight Club where Tyler points a gun to a random stranger and tells him that if he doesn’t go after his dream, he’ll kill him. I know that sound drastic, but if he never made it until a life and death situation, the random stranger wouldn’t think he had to go after it. “I have all the time in the world.” But living life like it’s life and death is exhausting. It’s why doctors are so drained of energy. It’s why soldiers have trauma.
    My belief in life is to live it with integrity. Not to please some God. Not to please your parents. But just having morals is a way to tell life “I respect you and the gift you have given me.” Ultimately, living a life of gratitude has been a recurring theme amongst belief systems. 
  5. How would you answer the old man’s final questions for his students? What would your version of Pudge’s essay look like?
    For those who haven’t read the book, the old man asks “How will you — you personally– ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?”
    My first mission would be to identify what suffering means in my life. Suffering very objective and therefore, different for others. An alcoholic’s version of suffering is not being able to escape the bottle, whereas the alcoholic’s partner’s version of suffering is to watch his/her partner suffer. Or even in terms of the book, Alaska’s version of suffering is never getting anything right, Pudge’s version was not being able to get together with Alaska, and The Colonel’s was not being good enough. See, different perspectives based on different values, morals, priorities and circumstances. Very similar to each other, but their own personal versions.
    What is causing suffering in my life? Something that I want to escape? Well, in short, overthinking.
    After identifying the suffering,  I would provide evidence as to why this constitutes suffering. My overthinking has led to loss of relationships, productivity, and opportunities.
    Then go into more details on the trigger moments. I.e: I was fine working where I used to work until I realized that I no longer felt satisfied because no matter how hard I work, I wasn’t making more money. Then I felt guilty for making it about the money and not about the work. Then I felt incompetent for not being able to support myself. Then I thought about all the other ways I’m incompetent until I have an self-doubting, self-loathing anxiety attack and need to escape to calm myself in the women’s bathroom. All this thinking when I could have just said “This job isn’t fulfilling to my talents or my wallet, I want to find something else.”
    Then I will list all the possible ways to escape overthinking and describe why that might work. Such as: If I meditate every day, my body will learn to breathe better naturally and calm my brain down with each breath. If I can find a power greater than myself to believe in, I might learn that it’s okay to let go of all my fears. If I can learn to let things go in general (forgive), I won’t feel the burden of my past. If I can learn to voice my concerns instead of holding them in, I can slowly see how quickly my thoughts jump from one isolating event to another, trying to merge past and present in incongruent ways that only seem to make perfect sense to me. If I can learn that my thoughts are not a direct representation of me, but rather a side-affect of living, I can separate myself and come back to my reality.
    That’s more or less how my essay will go (with more detail and proper grammar, of course). Oh, and do a small summary for a conclusion because teachers usually take off points if you don’t (at least my teachers did. I didn’t just bare my soul for them to not get an A+).

I think I took the last one a little too literal. It would be interesting to see how my answers for Question 4 and 5 would change down the line as I continue reading more books. Perhaps I’ll make it a thing to answer them every two years. 

Posted in LGBTQ

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Non-Spoiler Review

I got this book because I liked the title. It was not at all what I was expecting (well, I was expecting it to be a finding yourself story, which it was, so I guess that’s a lie. The delivery was not what I expected). This book was the first book I ever read with the gender-fluid main character. To spare you the time of Googling what that means, a gender-fluid person doesn’t identify as a fixed-gender. Therefore one day they can feel like a female, and the next hour like a male and then a couple minutes later…like nothing. That’s what happens to our protagonist, Riley. The book never mentions what gender Riley was at birth (I deduced it to “male” but I won’t mention as to why because that would be a spoiler.) In order not to insult, I won’t be reviewing using pronouns for this post.

What makes Riley special is that Riley is the child of a Senator who is trying to get re-elected. Therefore there is a lot of pressure on Riley to be the model child, and apparently, it’s not cool for Republicans to be associated with anything relating to the LGBT community. I don’t buy it because the setting is in California, and regardless of your political affiliation, California is a liberal state and for the most part, accepting (or at least, tolerant).

Riley’s therapist suggested to Riley to start an anonymous blog to help communicate the gender-identity situation. Riley recently transferred to a public school after leaving a religious school after having an anxiety attack due to the realization that (wow, not using pronouns has proven to be extremely difficult) there is more to Riley’s gender than just genitalia. This is all explained within the first few chapters so it’s not spoiling anything. Unsurprisingly, Riley is terrified of not being accepted in this new school. Riley dresses up gender-neutral in order not to expose one gender over the other, that way when there’s a shift, it won’t be weird to the public.

The way Riley explains gender-fluid is as a dial. In one end you have male, on the other end you have female. When you wake up, the dial points in one direction over the other. And it can change as the day and circumstances changes. I noticed that when he was hanging around guys, he felt more like a male. But when she was hanging around with girls, she felt more female (pronouns are appropriate here). I also noticed that when she was liking the idea of being a romantic interest, she felt more female. I guess her inner flirt is a queen.

Riley is paranoid that either someone will figure out that she/he is gender-fluid, the child of a Senator or the author of the blog discussing gender-fluid. We spent most of the time in his/her thoughts.

If you are into YA novels, this one fits the criteria and I’d recommend it. If you don’t have an open mind of the different associations in the LGBTQ community, this is probably not for you. You’d be rolling your eyes everytime Riley talks about being misunderstood.

In-Depth Review (Contains Spoilers)

In order not to spoil the dynamic of Riley’s new found friend and enemies, I decided to write them in this section instead of the spoiler free review.

Bec was the best possible love interest Jeff Garvin could have created. She was patient, sympathetic and comforting. Not to mention a tease that was able to produce a swarm of butterflies.  When she said her sister had a bad reaction to some medication and they couldn’t resuscitate her, I first thought of suicide. I know, my brain sucks. I’m used to reading tragic stories. So when she confessed that her transexual sibling killed herself, I was not surprised. It sucked, don’t get me wrong. Loss, especially through suicide, is hard to deal. I understand how Riley thought that Bec just saw her sister and that’s why Bec hung around. I get the low self-esteem “no one will like me unless they want to use me” mentality. So when it all worked out, I was happy! Also, “don’t be stupid. I don’t have a type. I have standards” is an evolved form of love for a teenager.

Solo is the reason I think Riley was born a male. When Riley’s father saw Solo at the hospital, he was…concerned. Riley has mentioned that his/her father thinks he’s gay. And his/her father would get excited with the idea of Riley handing around with a girl and going on dates. But the point of the story is that gender is irrelevant. I really liked Solo. I was sad in those chapters were Riley thought he was a dick. Solo is an understanding guy who loves Star Wars. He stood up for Riley and got him/her out of his/her head. He was honest and persistent.

I wish we knew more about Riley’s mom. The story was really dad centered with hints of mom here and there. Makes sense, the senators get more attention than the senator’s wife’s.

I was disappointed by the bullying. Not that I wanted Riley to get hurt or anything, but it just seemed unoriginal. Which might have been the point? To create a story where your worst enemy is literally yourself. Where the bullies might be bad but they are no worse to you than others. They didn’t seem too focused on making Riley’s life a living hell up until Riley decided to break Vicker’s arm. Not that I’m saying Riley should not have fended for him/herself. I’m simply stating a point. It was typical high school bullying. Typical namecalling and taunts. Nothing deliberately aimed to imply hated. It just felt that way to Riley. Because he/she couldn’t accept his/herself, she/he assumed the rest of the world would act that way. Then again….if he/she were “normal”, the same thoughts would probably occur and he/she would find another reason to find him/herself unlikeable. Maybe zits or crooked teeth. I do not miss my teenage years at all!

Unfortunately, I didn’t find that many good quotes in this book. Most books that I’ve read so far regard teenagers who are forced into a serious situation that requires them to grow up too soon and that is where all the introspective insights that I love reading about come from. With Riley’s case, he/she was arrested at the age of 6 when he/she had to decide what toy to get. He/she saw his/her dad looking disapproving at his/her choice of either a blue power ranger and a Bratz doll. That little incident was registered as “I did something bad. What I like is bad. I have to please my parents” and that is what started the hiding process. So in other words, Riley has a 6-year-old coping mechanism while being thrown in the zoo that is high school. No wonder his/her anxiety is off the charts! As cliche as it sounds…you need love to grow, at least emotionally. He/she didn’t have that. Not until Bec and Solo. And the LGBTQ support group (which I think they should have their own reality TV show because they were just amazing people, even if they were fictional). Then he/she started feeling more confident. More transparent. More visible. Like he/she belonged.

I did find two good quotes though:

“‘So, first, I want you to know that everybody experiences some level of anxiety. It’s a normal human response to stress. It’s like your body’s smoke alarm. If there’s a fire, you want to know so you can put it out or call 9-1-1, right?’
I shrug. ‘ I guess. But it feels like my alarm is going off all the time.’ 
Doctor Ann nods. ‘Some people’s systems are more sensitive than others’. For you, Maybe all it takes is burning a piece of toast, and your alarm thinks the house in on fire.'”
Anxiety is a trip (for more quotes about anxiety, read my blog post of Queens of Geek where I posted a good selection).

“‘You always say the best leaders figure out how to turn a bad situation to their advantage. When life gives you gators, you make Gatorade. Remember?'”
That should be a shirt!

(Featured Image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22692740-symptoms-of-being-human)

Posted in Our Shared Shelf

The Power By Naomi Alderman

NON-SPOILER REVIEW

The Power by Naomi Alderman has an interesting set-up that confused me at first. It starts out with a letter from a gentleman named Neil writing to a Naomi. So naturally, my first thought was that Neil was writing to our author and she just liked the letter and decided to include it. When, in the letter, he said he included a manuscript, and then it went from “The Power: A Novel by Naomi Alderman” to “The Power: A historical novel by Neil Adam Armon” I realized it that he was a fictional character himself, and this was his book.

Quite creative! Except that the way he wrote it didn’t feel historical at all. With the exception of the few diagrams here and there…it felt like a novel. But maybe he’s on to something. If history teachers thought like this, maybe we’d learn our history better.

The story then takes on 4 characters point of view (with later additions of 2 more characters but I won’t mention whom).

Roxy is the first character we’re introduced to. She was one of the first to gain the power, and she was one of the strongest with the power. Her story was quite incredible and overwhelming that it was unrelatable. She is the daughter of one of the most feared gangsters. Her story lies mostly within the “business” which actually, weirdly enough, makes her seem quite normal. Although she was the most powerful girl with the power, she didn’t abuse it. She used it for her day to day life, but it never went over her head. She was the most responsible with her power and used it wisely. She was mostly always in control. This could be because she has complete confidence in herself and/or she has strong values.

Tunde is our male character point of view. He first discovers it exists when a girl he likes…um…I guess electrocutes him playfully and he doesn’t know if she should be scared or turned on. He wasn’t able to talk about it with anyone and it was driving him crazy. Then, finally, he realized another girl was about to shock someone and he caught it on film. When CNN asked to buy his rights, he realized he could make a living as a reporter. He found his purpose. Throughout his story, we get an insight of all he saw in 3rd world countries regarding The Power and we get an insight of the male perspective and his feelings towards The Power’s existence and usage.

Margot was perhaps my least favorite character. If you like her, great, please leave a comment as to why. I’d be curious to see your point of view on her. I tried liking her at first. She’s a politician and she had to make a decision on whether or not to close down the school since little girls were bullying little boys. She was in a tough position, I get it. I can respect that. When her daughter (which I thought would make an even more interesting point of view character…she was one of my favorite characters) was caught shocking a boy, her mom asked her to do it to her. When she did, that little spark reminded Margot that she had it within her all along as well. That’s when they realized that girls can awaken the skein (that’s what they called the part in the collarbone where it is said The Power lies) of their mothers and grandmothers. At first, I was excited about this because I thought this would be a mother-daughter relationship discovering The Power together. Nope. Margot cared more about her position than her own daughter. Yes, she cared…but she cared more about work. Margot was the person to whom we get to see how greed and fear really affects a person. Which I guess makes sense that she’s a politician. It’s satirical. However, for the sake of interest, I believe it would have been better if she was a regular mom (because how cute would it be having to discover the power together?), a scientist (because it would be interesting to find out more detail about the skein and the power instead of just the blurbs here and there), or even a teacher witnessing the change of behaviors (but I guess there would be no use if the school shuts down….oh! Maybe a police officer seeing all the different crimes or a doctor seeing all the different victims. Seriously her parts were so boring that I would rather read about gory barbecue cases than about her power-hungry driven thoughts). For the most part, she just seemed pointless to the progression of the story. At least with Tunde, who had no power, served as eyes to the story.

Allie was my favorite character…up until she became Mother Eve. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the transition of Mother Eve, but after a while, she just became a symbol rather than a person. But Allie herself was really cool. She is a foster kid who had the misfortunes of the system. She winds up running away and in her adventure, she finds an aquarium with an eel and learns that eels have the power to control the nerves of they prey to do whatever they wish. That’s when Allie gets the idea that maybe, she can do it too. Allie is the only one who experiments with her power to that extent. What Roxy has in energy, Allie has in intelligence. What also makes Allie interesting is that she hears a voice. What that voice represents is up for debate (I included my thoughts in the In-Depth section of my review but it does contain spoilers so I didn’t want to include it here).

The momentum of the story was really slow. I started reading this book on Dec 29, which was the first annual Book Fairies Day of Reading. The rules are simple, read all day (or for the majority of the day) and don’t go online. Because I didn’t have the distraction of my phone, I was able to gain some distance in the book but the first half was brutal when it came to transitioning. There is a pleasurable way to do multiple person points of view, and then there’s a rough way. This one was the latter. Because the characters were spread in different parts of the world going through different things, and for the most part, their only correlation was The Power…there was no real connection. The second half was a little easier with the character change although the story was more gruesome.

I would recommend this book if you like to challenge your thoughts, beliefs and if you generally love contemplating a world where women take over. It’s  I would not recommend it though if you don’t have reading discipline. The subject matter gets repulsive and there is a lot of controversial topics.  Contrary to the storyline, it’s not a fun book. I felt physically tired reading it (but I have an overactive imagination).

IN-DEPTH REVIEW (CONTAINS SPOILERS)
(if you are an Our Shared Shelf member and you read the blog threads, some of the content might seem familiar because I posted it there as well)

I don’t even know where to begin. This book was so much. SO MUCH!

I’m still questioning whether or not I like this book. On the one hand, women being walking tasers is pretty great. Women having power is pretty great. But calling it a feminist book when it basically represents gender inequality doesn’t seem fitting. It’s gender reversal. It’s still the “patriarchy” as we perceive it now, but now vaginas are in charge. That’s why Naomi (from the book, not the author) asked if Neil would believe that the world would be better if men ran it since they are gentler. It’s satirical. It’s supposed to be “eye-opening” but I find it hopeless. Yeah, an overwhelming amount of power would become easily corrupt. I get that. I agree with her decision.

My thoughts on “The Voice”
It could be a mental disorder activated as a coping mechanism to survive all the trauma. It could be a way of her separating herself from herself in order to get comfort, especially since she didn’t have a trustworthy adult figure. Which would imply that Allie is extremely intuitive, which she was since she was able to sense fake people. So when she met Roxy and her voice was silent, she found a companion to trust. That’s why she was surprised she had a friend. Another evidence is that she, at first, thought it was her Mom. Whom do we turn to when we’re afraid? Our parents (well…if they were loving anyway).

I eventually believed that it was the skein. And Allie just happened to be more in tune with her inner self. She didn’t always have that voice, and by the time she had the voice, she was aware of her powers. She was also the only one who was able to manipulate her powers to do as she wanted….the power led her to that information. The Power needs a strong host to get stronger. But then again, the book reference Allie speaking to her heart a lot. So it could be her heart and not her skein.

But towards the end, it just felt too Godlike. I could believe that the skein was able to sense the coming of Roxy since like I said earlier, she seems to be more intuitive than most, and Roxy tends to be the strongest. But then wouldn’t she sense the skein alive when she was speaking to Darrell? Unless the skein changes DNA to match, which is possible and that’s why people have died from the operation. But then why would Allie’s skein bring up Samuel? And how did the skein know that Jos was supposed to get in trouble? And why would the skein be so opposed to her reconnecting with Eve unless of course, the skein is still recovering from the trauma of the past? But would skeins even have emotions? Allie’s seemed sympathetic, especially to her needs and desires. Which makes sense because a skein needs a host. But doesn’t anger help it become stronger? And didn’t that realization help her come to grips with what the skein wanted her to do all along? And why would the skein say I’ll see you on the other side? Is the skein a spirit? Was the skein being funny? Was that God saying she would have to face death (like Jesus, maybe? Or in war…we never did hear what happened, we just know the women won). But if it were God, why would God be surprised when Tatiana goes crazy and has her servant lick the liquid from the floor?

My thoughts on Jocelyn
I liked Jocelyn from the moment we were introduced to her. She is the daughter of Margot. On page 231, we finally got to read her own POV chapter. What made her interesting were that her powers weren’t as powerful as others.  Different is interesting. At first, I thought it was due to self-esteem. That the power was connected to your energy. Her’s sounded more bi-polar. Sometimes it was strong, sometimes it was non-existent, and pills tend to help balance it. Also, Roxy’s power failed at first. Roxy. The most powerful woman with the Power. Yet, when she was scared that her mom was being kidnapped, it failed her. That’s why I associated with esteem.

But then Ryan (her soon to be boyfriend) e-mailed her about gender-bending confusion. Turned out he had a skein as well. I started thinking it could be about identity. It could be gender-identity and she is not sure about hers and her skein works when she feels more feminine. Then on page 171, the author writes “Jo quite likes girls. She quite likes boys who are a bit like girls” meaning that Ryan kind of looks like a girl. So then maybe that’s why Ryan had a skein too. But looks are different than identity. But if that’s accurate, it would make sense why when men were trying to get their skeins implanted, it would fail. Because it didn’t register with the masculine mentality. It could be a symbolism of how out of place LGBTQ people feel even when the power shifts. Or it could just be that Alderman wanted to have an imperfect character because statistically speaking, some things do fail and not everyone can be so fortunate. Genetics doesn’t always get it right.

Or maybe it’s the stress of her mom. Having a family that is being under watch. The pressure she has on not getting to be a reckless teenage girl. That perfectionism taking hold and limiting her abilities.

There was a comment on page 235, after Jos accidentally overcharged the man that was trespassing that said: “She has the sense that if she starts to think about it she’ll tumble down into the deep, dark water; there’s a black ocean waiting for her now, it will always be waiting.” I wish Alderman would have elaborated on what the deep, dark water represented to Jos. I feel like it could be depression. Or it could be an inescapable truth.

My thoughts on the Newscasters and Urbandox
From time to time, Alderman squeezed these newscasters in the story. It was weird at first because 1) I wasn’t expecting it and 2) it wasn’t part of the setting. It was quite well accomplished. The newscasters represented the thoughts and gossip of the community at large. Basically, they were voicing the questions we would be asking if we were part of that society. It’s a perfect way to get answers and to feel involved in the story.

Urbandox is a conspiracy website. Just like every huge moment, there are the conspiracy theorists. Although I personally disliked the leader, I appreciated his presence in the story. They represented the resistance. They represented the people who were not okay with life-changing without their consent. The people who are scared and unable to accept that they are not in control anymore. But given at how fast-paced the change seemed, I don’t blame them. I think I’d like the leader more if he weren’t an entitled prick. This is the quote that just rubbed me the wrong way:

“They’ll only keep the most genetically healthy of us alive. See, this is why God meant men to be the ones with the power. However bad we treat a woman–well, it’s like a slave.
See, people got slavery wrong. If you have a slave, that slave’s your property, you don’t want damage to come to it. However bad any man treated a woman, he needs her in a fit condition to carry a child. But now…one genetically perfect man can sire a thousand–five thousand–children. And what do they need the rest of us for? They’re going to kill us all.”

6daef78d-7134-458c-8606-98e921b3feb7-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1

Eye roll after eye roll. Then he says that men need laws to protect them (which I agree) and that women need to have curfews (right, because historically speaking, the people in charge are the ones with curfews…usually it’s the minorities that have the curfew for their own protection, not the other way around. The exception: criminals have “curfews” when on house arrest. But these women haven’t broken the law…yet) and that the government should try to find a cure (because it’s a sickness? It’s a genetic trait. They just don’t understand it so they treat it as a disease or illness. Well, given that it is somewhat “contagious” I can see his confusion. Well, that’s the wrong word. He is not confused, he does not like it).

I am totally against killing all men. But if someone were to execute this guy, I wouldn’t be heartbroken. I might actually cheer. This guy is making slavery seem like the owners did the slaves a favor! Abusing a situation doesn’t make you a hero, bro!

Day of the Girls
In the book club I’m in, someone made a very important observation, that the “Day of the Girls changed the power structure but not individuals” (see the thread discussion here). My argument to this was that The Day of the Girls was a global acknowledgment that the power exists…and in girls. They weren’t aware that it can happen to all women (well, the majority of the women, and some men). I don’t think it would have a huge change in character.

Think of it as Women History Month. We still go to work. We still do the same things we normally do on a regular basis, we just celebrate that we have more freedom now than we did then. Then over time, we make our dreams come true if we’re lucky. But rarely does a person do a complete 180 because of a day, unless that day happened to be rock bottom.

My Thoughts on Mother Eve
Firstly, I love the symbolism of Eve. I may not like the character because she’s boring, but I liked her significance. I thought it was funny that she chose the name of her former foster mom (and how later that backfired on her). But also thought it was cool that it was the name of the first biblical lady and how she turned the Bible into respecting and celebrating women. I really liked that Mother Eve used her electric eel knowledge to help heal and cause “miracles.” Although she was going after what she wanted, so she was a very selfish selfless person. But I will say this, she sure is patient. Unlike all the other women with power, she took her time establishing her plan. She did so well, no one saw it coming. I knew Allie would be special when the grey fox accompanied her for 3 days. I took the fox as a foreshadowing of her future leadership. It’s interesting that it’s a fox because, in some cultures, a fox represents wisdom…in others, it represents a trickster. So her role is perfect. I don’t know if I should take symbolism in the 3 days aspect.

Favorite Quotes
e347628b-985f-422c-ad22-d45f36805c74-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1“She listens at doors and around corners. She has always had this habit. A child in danger must learn to pay more attention to the adults than a child loved and cherished.”

“There is a noise that is different to grief. Sadness wails and cries out and lets loose a sound to the heavens like a baby calling for its mother. That kind of noisy grief is hopeful. It believes that things can be put right, or that help can come. There is a different kind of sound to that. Babies left alone too long do not even cry. They become very still and quiet. They know no one is coming. 

“It doesn’t matter that she shouldn’t, that she never would. What matters is that she could, if she wanted. The power to hurt is a kind of wealth.”

“‘They have said to you that man rules over woman as Jesus rules over the Church. But I say unto you that woman rules over man as Mary guided her infant son, with kindness and with love.'”

“‘The day someone else knows where your money’s going better than you do, that’s the day you’ve lost.’ It’s like a magic trick, money. You can turn money into anything.”

“They’re waiting for something to happen. We’re only pretending everything is normal because we don’t know what else to do.”

“She shouts out, ‘Don’t you fucking touch me!’ and pulls at the thing on her head. And blood and iron bloom at the back of her skull because someone’s hit her as hard as she’s ever been hit and her last thought is ‘A leopard, as a pet’ as she goes down into night.”
I know this quote seems very messed up, and it is…but I like it because it’s Roxy’s own version of “Et tu, Brutus? Then fall Ceasar.”

“He has written in the scribbled notes for his book: ‘At first we did not speak our hurt because it was not manly. Now we do not speak it because we are afraid and ashamed and alone without hope, each of us alone. It is hard to know when the first became the second.'”

“This is the magic by daylight; tricks and cruelty. The magic is in the belief in magic. All this is, is people with an insane idea. The only horror in it is imagining oneself into their minds. And that their insanity might have some consequences on the body.”

“The kind of face her dad would have said was a bad bet for business. Never keep someone on a job who likes it too much. She knows when she sees the single flash of that gleeful and hungry face that they’re not here to raid for what they can find.”

“When did he get so jumpy? And he knows when. It wasn’t this last thing that made it happen. This fear has been building up in him. The terror put its roots down into his chest years ago and every month and every hour has driven the tendrils a little deeper into the flesh.” 
Welcome to rape culture, Tunde.

If there’s anything you want to talk about from the book, please leave a comment. I wish I could post all my thoughts but I don’t want to take any more of your time. It’s long enough as it is.

P.S. Did your heart hurt when Naomi asked Neil if he considered publishing his book in a woman’s name instead? Ouch

0387b63d-2dff-48ad-ba43-2bba55c8155e-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1

 

(Featured Image was taken from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29751398-the-power?from_search=true)