Book Series Edition: Unwind Series; Part 1

Unwind-Neal-Shusterman

By now, you’re so done with YA Dystopia books, set in familiar worlds and navigated by unruly, heroic/vigilante/anarchist protagonist characters. And, if it’s YA, there’s definitely a plot to overthrow the tyrannical government or upend a scientific experiment attempting to ostensibly improve humanity. I was done too until I heard about Neal Shusterman’s Unwind series, four books (plus some short stories) that are unnerving: young people made into organ donors—while they’re still alive. To put it mildly, Unwind isn’t for the faint of heart.

In the four-part book series, we mainly follow the characters Connor, Risa, and Levi in a world highly invested in Unwinding: a scientific breakthrough that makes every organ and tissue viable for harvesting and accessible to anyone. People aren’t using the organs from recently deceased people, however. Unwinding uses fresh ingredients from living, young adults between the ages of 13-18. No one’s being hunted, of course. This is all conducted appropriately. The parents give the order to Unwind their child. Some children, called Tithes, are even bred for it. Who would do that? Tired parents. Selfish parents. Uneducated parents. Gullible parents. Basically humans.

Connor is one of the many whose parents have decided to sign the Unwind order and have his organs harvested, except Connor doesn’t go willingly. He escapes from the Juvie cops (special task force that locates Unwind AWOLS), takes a Tithe called Levi hostage, subdues a Juvie cop (which later bites Connor in the ass), and meets the street-smart, orphaned Risa Ward, who’s also sentenced to be Unwind. When things settle, the three meet Sonia, a member of the resistance group against Unwinding. From there, the three of them are on the run. Connor wants to destroy the system of Unwinding. Risa wants to just survive and protect the ones she loves. And Levi wants to find purpose with his life.

The Unwind series omits the distant-future pretense found in other YA Dystopias and is set in our current world, paralleling our science and technology along with our culture (to clarify: the United States.) To make this apparent, Shusterman incorporates articles from real life—which are all legit—about the black market harvesting organs, babies being abandoned, and abortion clinics being closed. Although it can feel like padding at times, the articles remind us of one of our more pressing social issues. In the Unwind universe, a war broke out between the factions of Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. Right now, especially with the presidential campaign, the topic of abortion is more than heated (especially when you have a red-beaten hog insisting women be punished if they have an abortion). There’s certainly a verbal war that’s been happening for years, but it’s not only just talk. We see countless political agendas manifesting in laws, hospital-building regulations, and insurances policies to restrict and deprive women in having the choice to abort fetuses. This wouldn’t be the first time the United States went to war over human rights. What’s to say that won’t happen over women’s choice to terminate pregnancies? Unwind provides us with a terrifying alternative by subjecting young adults to cruel ends. This might seem impossible to imagine, but it’s probably more real than you think.

The Unwinding process and order isn’t necessarily the problem but actually how beneficial it is.  No matter how inhumane it seems (it is), there’s a lot of good that happens when there’s a replete of body parts at our disposal. We’re talking about kids who are paralyzed that could receive new spines and walk again. New pair of eyes for the blind. Amputee veterans who don’t have to use prosthetic limbs. Genetic diseases that could be avoided just by replacing the isolated, affected area (maybe? Still on the fence with this one). These are truly wonderful benefits of Unwinding. It’s also a system that preys on people’s body insecurities and vanity. Plastic surgery becomes obsolete when you can just pick what nose you want on your face. Exercising is beneath anyone who can afford to purchase toned abs (even though I think the science behind this is a bit flakey). The system easily morphs into a corrupt industry perpetuated by profits and people’s egos.

Similar to how I reviewed the Harry Potter series, I’ve included some of my commentary below. Unwind wasn’t a series I consistently enjoyed. There are parts that I didn’t agree with or I thought weren’t executed well. Books one and four had a gripping story and descent characterization; however, books two and three (mainly three) liken to white noise. I will discuss more of the series in Part 2.

The Heartland Wars: Pro-Life and Pro-Choice

I implied earlier that Unwinding was the solution to abortion between the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice factions during the United States’ second civil war named The Heartland Wars. Unwinding actually helped put an end to the war and was invented by a scientist that simply wanted to help people (usually the case). Unwinding prevents overpopulation which the world will need because, after The Heartland Wars, abortions are illegal, thereby, more babies. A woman doesn’t have to keep the child, however. This is what is known as Storking, a law passed that rarely makes anyone’s life happy.

Storking is when a woman leaves her baby at someone’s home and that home is required by law to take custody of the child. The only stipulation that would require the woman to keep the child is if she’s discovered in the act of dropping the baby off. As you can imagine, several families have at least five to ten children per a household, leading to higher stress, not to mention, the financial costs in raising those children. Because abortion is banned, families are forced to adopt children they don’t want.  Kids end up being resented and isolated from the family. In most cases, Storks are given up to be Unwind. Storks are dropped into these circumstances with no rights in a system that is rigged against them.

Unwind points out the problems in having children if we’re only going to expose them to a miserable life and treat them as burdens. I don’t have children and probably never will, but, to me, that type of treatment is damaging to kids and isn’t something they’ll just grow out of. We’re looking at adult-kids feeling ashamed and unwanted, parents feigning affection, and people forced to become parents who may not be parent material (maternal instincts don’t come with the uterus, folks.)

The series discusses just what happens when women do not have any say in their medical choices. Everyone makes different choices—but it’s fairly lousy to have kids suffer that kind of abuse because you were forced to have them instead of wanting them.

Excessive Narration: Filling In Every Gap and Beating Me With a Hammer

When the character Starkey was added, Shusterman created this interesting dichotomy between Starkey and the lead protagonist Connor.  Starkey wasn’t about preserving the peace. In the second book, he’s running from a Juvie Cop, but unlike Connor who knocks out the Juvie cop in book one, Starkey kills the cop. From then on, we study the characterization of these two in terms of hero versus icon. Shushterman employs this similar character contrast with Lev, a fallen Christian, and Miracolina, a devout Christian. These are things I wish were employed more frequently in the series and does reflect Shusterman’s penchant in developing characters.

But then the narration takes a sharp turn and becomes extraneous. The narration broadcasts everything from the viewpoint of a gardener witnessing an attack on a a harvest camp, a girl hiding in the corner before blowing herself up, to, and, I kid you not, an old military plane. I just don’t need that much information.

Creating additional characters to narrate these moments feels like lazy editing in the sense that you haven’t presented enough information and clues to the reader to fill in the gaps. The prose is excessive and encumbers much of the story. It’s by far what makes book three so hard to read. Make use of the characters you already have and expect that they’re not going to know everything. Not everything needs to be said. Let my brain do some of the detective work.

To be continued in Part 2.

 

 

 

 

Chick Lit and Gender Disparity

Gender-Disparity-Chick lit needs to go away.

Whenever I read the term Chick lit, I instinctively recoil. I bristle when people come to its defense; my brain can only register it like an undermining compliment. It sounds nice but you just know something is wrong with it.

I don’t actually have a problem with the content in Chick lit. Bring on all the tropes about single ladies contending with their overbearing bosses and agonizing, 30th birthdays! At first the term ‘Chick lit’ appears innocuous until we analyze the connotations of the name and its implications. Identifying a genre by its audience is problematic in itself (ergo Grip Lit), but the interchangeable treatment of women’s stories as lighter or fluffier is egregious and is another kind of sexism that’s nuanced but, nonetheless, damaging.

Chick lit is defined as a subgenre of Fiction, not Romance, created exclusively to encompass female authors’ works usually involving a young, modern, single-female protagonist who’s struggling romantically or with her career. Chick lit, however, reveals a systemic problem in how women and their works are categorized. If there’s a female protagonist (in love usually), several women occupy the story (dealing with love troubles), or female problems (menstruation and pregnancy for example), then it falls automatically under Chick lit, but women’s stories are not always light despite what the name Chick lit implies. The name nearly blankets all female-oriented subjects and leaves a misleading impression about women’s issues being less than other folks, which translates as half the world’s population being less significant. Not only does the subgenre’s name misconstrue female stories but pairing the words Chick and lit boxes these stories into a niche that can end up excluding people from reading them.

By segregating the works of men and women, we’re presupposing a distinction that fosters gender disparity in how we perceive and recognize women’s literary works. Part of the reason so many harbor this myth is that they believe men and women are innately different. There are differences (especially under the belt) but this is where the problem occurs. It’s not that men and women are different but that women’s works are somehow secondary or less to their male counterparts. As DJ Donnell writes on the subject of Chick lit “whatever lit is, it is certainly not literature. It is much lower on the food chain, something light and unimportant.” Even when men write on virtually the same subject except with a male protagonist, there’s no subgenre made called Dude lit. Men’s stories are treated as a default; they’re automatically put into the genre of Fiction, thus, revealing a double standard in the publishing industry. Separating the works of men and women doesn’t bring emphasis but is polarizing and actually encumbers women receiving equality in terms of how their work is received and regarded. Women’s works are not being assessed by the same criteria that are applied to men’s works, a criteria that causes many women to pander to a set of standards established predominantly by a history of white, male authors (another whole bag of problems). Enforcing these distinctions can only harm our understanding of masculinity and femininity by perpetuating stereotypes of gender. This can discourage male readers from reading these works but can also misinform young women (I know it did with me.)

As I said before, Chick lit needs to go away. It’s the one area of my life—my reading and writing life—that I get to escape to and not be reminded how prevalent sexism is. I’m sure we’ll move passed it, when everyone recognizes the problem, and there is definitely a problem.

Women and Light are not synonymous.

 

Considering Trigger Warnings and Our Biggest Offense

trigger warnings

Even though it’s only been three years since I graduated from college, so much has changed. I read works like Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Cruse’s Stock Rubber Baby, and Keat’s “Leda and The Swan,” and engaged with my peers in heated discussions about these books with topics on rape, sexual exploitation, race, and bigotry. When we signed up for these courses, we were expected to read the works and participate in class discussions. Professors didn’t warn us of the content (okay, they may have offhandedly said that we’d be hating the world for a week) but they did provide a syllabus listing what we would be reading. If we wanted to know anything further, we’d research it. I went in blind on all my assigned readings, never knowing what I would have to talk about or how it would affect me until my eyes found the words lying on the page. No one challenged the material even if they didn’t agree with it, not in an academic setting anyway. So much as changed.

Trigger warnings, the term originating from the psychological term ‘trigger’ that dates as far back as World War I but found digitally in the back alleys of the internet on feminist forums, are devices warning of explicit sexual violence or graphic material contained in a piece of literature. Lately everyone’s jumped on the band wagon of inserting ‘TW’ before everything’s written, when in truth is excessive and thoughtless; yet in the academic setting, where students are taught critical theories and are exposed to unnerving content to prepare them for the ‘real world,’ using trigger warnings is tricky since professors never know what might trigger someone, but we’re now witnessing students opposing material that they deem offensive for whatever personal reason, thus, raising complicated questions about learning, cultural sensitivity, and censorship in colleges and universities.

The use of trigger warnings are exaggerated due to misinformed definitions and purposes. TW are devices that anyone can use but don’t necessarily apply to everyone. They’re intended to alert people who have undergone significant trauma and experience physical symptoms that hinder their daily activity. The confusion arises in people’s understanding of people who have suffered trauma; most, unless they’ve personally witnessed it, don’t believe someone could experience physical symptoms when the issue is mental. Although there are cases where someone will be unable to engage with the material due to the severity of the trauma, TW are implemented to better aid in a person’s recovery and shouldn’t be treated as a permanent evasive approach.  Gradual exposure to the content may help combat the physiological symptoms. Trigger warnings enable those to prepare themselves to partake in rational discussions versus having their own intense experience impair them.

While inserting ‘TW’ is mostly innocuous (but frustrating to see used incorrectly,) there are some people who abuse the intention behind them for their own reasons, creating a sheltered culture of intolerance and privilege. One recent example of this occurred at Duke University where some of the freshmen students objected to reading Alison Blechdel’s Fun Home as it compromised their Christian beliefs, but as Dianna Anderson wrote, “one is a physiological response; the other is a choice in the practice of religious belief.” The Atlantic released an article “The Coddling of the American Mind,” which has been circulating and igniting the contentious debate of cultural sensitivity demonstrated in how much we apply TWs in our everyday lives or at how often we hear of students’ protests over written material. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt write on the ostensible “movement…arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense,” and applying the term microaggressions, defined as the verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or. unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their. Although a dubious and perhaps an exaggerated claim, the article does point to some less than romantic ideas about academia.

From an economic standpoint, universities and colleges are places of business that try to maintain a constant flow of revenue; they can’t run on lofty ideals alone. Governing education falls more upon administrators than the professors and one of the factors influencing administrations are the students, i.e. the customers. If enough students ban together to have material removed from the course, then the administration, even when the students’ protest are unfounded, will more than likely submit and have the professors pick another topic, with the professors, afraid they might lose their jobs, do little to pushback. What’s arguably needed now is some pushback. Classrooms provide the appropriate context to discuss diverse and complicated issues. The academics aren’t a hodgepodge of obstinacy but a place fostering worldly perception of challenging ideas and reinventing ideas of culture. Having your own beliefs is acceptable but obstructive when absorbing the material that could possibly enlighten us.

I imagine I will continue to see stories pop up of students banning together to have a novel removed from class because it offends them—but that action is offensive in itself.  None of these works like the ones above are easy to talk about, but I absorbed them with the kind of necessary discomfort that we hold in us, a kind of vague unknowing feeling that sounds like a reluctant ‘maybe’ and scares us  from ditching the life map and driving. Staying in our comfort zone is safe but self-restricting stunts intellectual growth and maturity. We shortchanged ourselves and others.

New Year Resolution: My Five Writing Goals

Instead of writing on the innocuous or potential damage trigger warnings cause, I’ve opted to write on one of my favorite times of the year: New Years. This won’t be a post on the ‘Best Books of 2015’ or ‘My Top Ten Favorite Books of 2015’ because that has been done to death and so many amazing books were released this year that, even if I tried, I couldn’t appropriately rank them but what I can offer is something I’m equally if not more passionate about: writing.

In reading Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Short Stories, I’ve found several things to aspire towards next year in terms of my writing. If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it. Published posthumously after Keegan was killed in a car accident five days after graduating from Yale, the book contains a collection of Keegan’s essays and fiction/non-fictional pieces. She was so young and wrote witty, profound, generational pieces. The introduction, written by one of her Yale professors, disclosed Keegan’s ambitions and work ethic during Keegan’s undergrad days and also provided a list of what Keegan herself was hoping to improve on in her writing. And as a I writer, I asked, ‘have I ever made one of those list?” And the answer was immediately obvious. I’ve been editing my novel for over a year. I’ve rewritten most of it, feeling like some days, I’m reinventing the infrastructure of it. Subconsciously I’m well aware of what to look at. Cutting that needlessly long sentence (because I’m secretly trying to telepathically suffocate my readers?) Too many paragraphs that I should condense into one (because one critic told me to ‘take it easy on the readers’ eyes’ like half-a-page paragraph will cause a seizure or something.) Or my trying to be cryptic in the last line of a paragraph (because if I’m confused, you’re lost.) I know so many things about my writing but I rarely reflect on some of these major issues and articulating them may help to improve upon them.

I decided that in the year of 2016 to work on five things to improve on in my writing. I’ve compiled a list below stating each one and their significance.

Awkward syntax

By far, this area in my writing is the most challenging for me. Often when I read one of my awkwardly written sentences, the meaning and sound is virtually transparent to me. A professor advised that I read this aloud, and for the most part, it helps, but there are times that I simply don’t see the funky, grammatical formation impeding on my sentences. Partially responsible for this is my own awkwardness and the way I talk. Several people have argued that this is not true, however.

Nonetheless, it’s something I need to improve.

Ambiguity Doesn’t Mean Deep

This isn’t a grammatical problem; it’s a content problem. Sometimes when I’m deep in writing a metaphor/simile, I overreach. Like, I try way too hard to achieve some level of profundity that no one except me will understand. That’s not being clever. That’s obnoxious and will cause your reader to just stare at the page annoyed. You two will get into an argument because you’ll try to say that it has ‘so much meaning’ and your friend will tell you to shut up and move on from your pretentiousness. Has this happened? Yes.

I mostly find this wedged in the most mundane areas or at the end of paragraphs. I struggle with this more times than not, and I’ve found that if I have to debate it, it’s going into my dump folder.

Excessively  Long Sentences (though impressive)

The phrase, ‘keep it simple, stupid’ could not apply more.

I’m someone who can write a ridiculously long sentence and actually make it work—sometimes. The problem that I run into is too many of these impressively long sentences that weigh the writing down and cause all sorts of confusing syntax and contextual meanings. Just because I can do it, I probably shouldn’t, or at least, use them sparingly. I can get so lost in thought, especially while having a Low (btw, my writing, if bogged down by an army of these sentences usually means I’m having one) that the meaning of the sentence is lost. Again, we need to keep our readers with us.

It. What is ‘It’?

The pronoun essentially used to describe or evade anything in any work. Sometimes, we  don’t even know we’re doing this, but in writing, it’s very obvious, especially in mine. Seen often in the first draft of most of my works, I tend to skirt around and not directly say who or what is feeling or doing something keeping us under the umbrella of ambiguity once again (see a pattern? I do!)

For example:

‘It was a good day.’

Okay. What is ‘it’ referring to? Maybe the day? You? Me? Just say, ‘I had a good day,’ then! Don’t need to leave us wondering who actually had the good day, which I hope you’re having.

Verb-tense Consistency

Because I’m not always writing things in the present tense, my work suffers. There’s a plethora of debates out there on writing literature in present versus past tense. Some find present tense awkward and some see past tense as a slow-paced form of writing. Whatever you prefer is fine. I actually write in both tenses. Oddly my short stories are usually in past tense while my vehement novel is present tense—for the most part. I sometimes slip and it’s not something detrimental to my writing, but  it is something that I need to keep in mind during the editing stages.

 

Perhaps in the new year, I will post an excerpt of my novel. I keep referring to it but haven’t provided any explicit details about it. I know many writers are eager to share their works, but I’m usually hesitant. Then again, since this is a book blog, it might be appropriate since I hope one day to have said novel published.

To everyone, thank you for following. We’ve had a good year together, and I appreciate all your comments! If you have any recommendations of books you think I should read or are an author looking to get his or her book reviewed, send me an email at myhermitsanctum@gmail.com. Don’t forget to review my Book Recommendation page first.

See you in the New Year!

 

 

My Week with Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part 7 (The Finale!)

harry potter and the deathly hallows

Of course there will be spoilers contained in my last post of “Harry Potter”, but, still, I will say it once more: Spoiler Alert: Do not read if you haven’t read any one of the “Harry Potter” novels.

Back in high school when everyone was reading the last Harry Potter book, my SIL, best friend at the time, had offhandedly redubbed it as Harry Potter and the Prolonged Camping Trip. I had no idea what she meant until now. She’s bloody right. Pages are dedicated to Harry, Hermione, and Ron camping in the woods while on the run. They’re busier sorting out their own problems than finding Horcruxes.  Some, like Ron—too preoccupied with his own bruised ego—just do nothing to advance the story along.

The Deathly Hallows is an accumulation of unsaid conversations finally surfacing. Harry’s unwavering loyalty to Dumbledore. Ron’s inferiority complex of his best friend. Hermione’s feelings for Ron. And to be brutally honest, the latter of the two are just exhausting, a banal romantic entanglement to remind us that Harry and Hermione are never ever going to happen.

The last book recounts our heroes’ aimless search for the Horcruxes, their misgivings towards each other, and the strength they find to persevere and overcome impossible odds. It’s also famously known as one of the most tragic books from the Harry Potter series with more beloved characters killed off than in a Joss Whedon series. Deathly Hallows is the series’ apogee, an emotional cutting, candescent piece that while struggles with pacing, is what the story deserves instead of what it needs.

Death Is Coming For You

Harry Potter is quite merciless at killing off some of its most intricate characters. I wasn’t harboring any delusions of everyone being safe from Rowling’s pen. Moreover, I expected a few deaths. Hedwig’s death, the first death in Deathly Hallows, signals the novel’s ruthlessness… and also the beginning of my own bawling. What can I say? I cry  at reading and watching people’s pets die. But more importantly, Hedwig’s death thematically represents a loss of innocence. She was one of the first gifts and a friend bestowed to Harry. Killing her was symbolic of Harry leaving behind his childhood (or, depending on your interpretation, thrusted into adulthood.) This is a reoccurring theme in all the Harry Potter novels, being that this is an epic, coming-of-age story.

Some of the other deaths were some of the best, well-written pieces I’ve read in a while. The death of Dobbie and Fred were so eloquent that they gave me chills. But others did disappoint me, such is the case with the deaths of Remus and Tonks. While it was apparent that Remus was destined to die—his friends gone, his career in the gutter, and an unstable condition—I did wonder if perhaps he would survive after marrying Tonks and fathering a child. Still, every time we saw him in rags, blanch and thinning, he looked like he was wilting before us, similar to what happened to Sirius Black. At this point, I wanted the same fate for Remus, to go out in a blaze of glory, but unlike Sirius, the glory is a hollow death. He loses his life alongside his young wife Tonks, leaving behind a child he will never know.

But, thankfully, Harry was appointed Godparent…so… Harry will raise the boy…right? Right?? Seriously, if anyone knows, please tell me, because the ending didn’t seem to suggest that!

Hunting Horcruxes

Famous heirlooms. Voldemort’s hubris… How was this hard?

And reading through Ron’s inferiority complex caused a really loud sound that I couldn’t shut off. Oh, wait. That was my screaming at him.

Ron, the bane of my existence (and apparently Hermione, but she ends up marrying him so…)

The Bittersweet End of Severus Snape

The Deathly Hallows reveals the most about Severus Snape. Argued as the ultimate anti-hero, Snape, as I already knew, loved Lily Evans/Potter. They met when they were children right as Lily was discovering that she was a Witch. Even after being sorted into the four Hogwarts houses (eleven is really too young…), they continue as friends, but like any cliché, Snape falls into a bad crowd of future Death Eaters. When Snape regrettably calls Lily a Mudblood, their friendship dissolves. Lily starts dating James, and Snape joins the Death Eaters.

Several parts of this story are curious and most revealing about the character Snape. Despite loving Lily and being deeply ashamed at how he treated her, he remains in love with her while doing horrible deeds in the name of the Dark Lord. He only begins to repent when he discovers the prophecy and how Lily will lose her life protecting her child, thus, taking on the role as a double agent and later as Harry Potter’s secret protector. The real question that I always find myself asking though is this: why did he continue down a destructive path after what happened with Lily?

Snape demonstrates that he’s capable of feeling remorse (although it may only apply to Lily, Dumbledore, and Harry.) He recognizes when he’s made a mistake, but this isn’t enough to change him. More often, it’s usually not for anyone. It ends up being a life-changing event that reforms Snape into a person that still does horrible things but for the greater good—which is exactly what he wanted whether he knew it or not.

I used to think the life of Severus Snape was a tragic one, and it still is in retrospect. He wasn’t offered the chance to come clean or openly make amends with anyone, even with Harry, who Snape treated the worst; however, Snape’s last line tells us so much about who he was.

“Look…at…me…” he says in his dying breath. It’s quite the contrast to the movie’s version that attempts to redeem him and make him more sympathetic, but the book’s version succinctly summarizes who the character Severus Snape is. He’s tormented and destructive because he doesn’t see himself as anything else. He doesn’t forgive himself. Not ever. Snape isn’t spending his last breaths trying to confide in Harry or apologizing. That’s not his version of atonement. Snape doesn’t want to feel better. He interprets his mistakes too great to ever be forgiven, so he must suffer as much as he loved Lily.

He’s committed, that’s for sure.

Dumbledore’s Biography

I did say I wanted a biography…I just didn’t expect one to be published in the Harry Potter universe.

Dumbledore didn’t adopt his altruistic beliefs until later on after making a handful of mistakes. He was a know-it-all, genius wizard who couldn’t care less about his family. Awards, achievement, and the revolution of the wizarding world were the only things occupying his mind, that is, until the death of his sister, Ariana, who Dumbledore may have inadvertently killed during his altercation with his brother and friend, Grindelwald. Dumbledore never forgave himself, so much so he never pursued a position of high- ranking power. For him, his sister’s death sobered him. It taught him he couldn’t wield tremendous power. He lacked the mental discipline and humility, even though we’re lead to believe he’s the most humble professor considering the glut of power at his disposal. Even so, Rowling has removed most of the mystique surrounding the powerful wizard Dumbledore and greatly humanized him, something which I loved.

19 years later. . .and All Is Well.

If you’re not up to date on your Shakespearian references, the last three words will mean nothing to you, but if you are, then it should tickle your brain. It did for me anyway.

The only reason I actually know this reference is subsequently from studying and writing on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, noted as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays but also considered a Comedy. Why it’s viewed as a problem play stems from its implicit content that doesn’t comply with the conventions of Shakespeare’s Comedy; it essentially deviates from the tropes of the genre. All’s Well That Ends Well contains several issues that many argue don’t fit the category of Comedy, shoehorning the two romantic partners together and carrying in its subtext egregious gender politics. To sum it up, it’s not a happy ending for all. In this play, the quote “All is well that ends well” tries to remedy the loose ends and fates of the other supporting characters almost like a comedic shrug; however, the phrase is harsher than we know. What happens, happens or That’s life. Sound familiar, right?

Besides the staggering death toll, several characters’ fates aren’t expounded upon in The Deathly Hallows, with the fate of some not necessarily happy. For instance, the ending of Remus’ son is problematic since he grew up more or less an orphan. Bill Weasley is permanently disfigured. Percy will forever carry with him the psychological trauma of Fred’s death. George lost his twin, who was like his other half. Draco Malfoy, considered an antagonist throughout the Harry Potter series is apparently redeemed despite almost killing a girl and Ron in the Half-Blood Prince. All things considered, there’s no room for celebration. So how does one go about ending a series that, for many, has been a source of happiness and comfort without euphorically washing out the story’s maturity and complexities?

The ending quote, “All is Well,” doesn’t gloss over any of the problems or somber moments. It pointedly and realistically addresses loss and grief and how time can temper these things but not expunge them from our emotional circuitry. It also identifies that not everything is perfect. Fair to say, if leaving Harry Potter with the feeling that everything is as it should be or believe it’s a happy ending, then we’ve blithely misread and overlooked the nuances of the last chapter.

As Harry, Ron, and Hermione send their kids off to Hogwarts, we know as well as they do that this moment is contributed from an amalgam of sacrifices, losses, and victories. There are things they’ll never be able to forget. Certainly things aren’t perfect and were not supposed to think they are, but we can say, that it’s better than the alternative.

The Harry Potter Blues and Final Thoughts

I’ve heard about this condition where people go into a catatonic book slump after reading Harry Potter, a void that just cannot be filled. While I am experiencing some reading lag, let me reaffirm that this has more to do with the holidays and a temporarily closed library than Harry Potter.

It’s been interesting reading the series. I’ve met and talked with some cool people and gleaned from our conversations that Harry Potter holds a special place in their hearts. It’s a token from their childhood and/or adolescent years. I get that. It just isn’t for me. I’m older, arguably more mature, but more so, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t carry keepsakes from her childhood. I couldn’t tell you what my favorite Barbie doll was. I had over a hundred drawing hung on the fridge, which have all been discarded. Awards and trophies are kept in closets or stuffed in draws. A sign of avoidance and/or repression? Possibly.

Harry Potter is special in the sense that it can touch so many people differently. I think of it like watching an eclipse: you have to use a pinhole to see it right and have to be in the right place and time. Maybe I didn’t see the eclipse right or maybe I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Who’s to say?

I read and enjoyed the series. I picked up several new things that I wouldn’t ordinarily find in other books because I don’t spend a lot of time reading series in general. Rowling created seven books that read cohesively while adapting to the aging characters, a huge undertaking and not often appreciated.

It’s hard to believe it’s been seven months since I first picked up the first book. And I would definitely be up to rereading the series after I’ve spent some time reading other books, writing about them, and continuing to write my own story. Then someday, I can revisit Hogwarts.

Thanks everyone for following, or for others, humoring this reading escapade.

If you missed Parts 1-6, I’ve included links below.

Hope you survive enjoy your holidays!

My Week with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone, Part 1

My Week with Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, Part 2

My Week with Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, Part 3

My Week with Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Part 4

My Week with Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, Part 5

My Week with Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, Part 6

 

 

 

My Week with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Part 6

Harry_Potter_and_the_Half-Blood_Prince_(US_cover)Spoilers are ahead. I say this again: SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED IN THIS POST OF ALL THINGS HARRY POTTER.

Following the events from Order of the Phoenix, Harry’s name is cleared, and Hogwarts is liberated from the Ministry of Magic’s control, thus, allowing Dumbledore to do what he does without surveillance. If only that were all true.

Replacing Cornelius Fudge is Rufus Scrimgeour, a more competent, militant man who wouldn’t hesitate to exploit an enemy’s weakness or use others for his own gain (of course under the premise that it’s for the ‘greater good.’)  Scrimgeour is arguably the Commander in Chief we need to fight Voldemort’s army, but in the Harry Potter universe, the Ministry, i.e., the government, is not what will save the day. Even Harry Potter, the ‘Chosen One,’ isn’t necessarily stopping the onslaught of Death Eaters. The man with contingency plan who has a contingency plan for his contingency plan is Albus Dumbledore. He’s been looking at the bigger picture probably since learning of Tom Riddle’s diary and its significance. At long last, we learn that Dumbledore has been researching and locating magically charged objects called Horcruxes. While Harry’s been scrapping by in surviving Voldemort’s attacks, Dumbledore’s been on the offense and trying to find the Horcuxes to kill Voldemort.

Even with this narrative introduced, we know nothing about Dumbledore, of his family (though I sometimes think he just poofed into existence), marital status, travel destinations, etc. And Harry, despite seeing Dumbledore as a paternal/role model, doesn’t ask a lot of questions about his mentor. There’s certainly something to be said here about Harry’s relationship with Dumbledore. It’s definitely not a two-way street, even though we are lead to believe they have a unique friendship (I was originally going to say special but that sounds creepy, and it’s definitely NOT that.) It’s true Dumbledore takes Harry under his wing, but we can only infer as to why. We can’t assign any term to describe their relationship other than the teacher/professor relationship, but Harry doesn’t fully realize this until the end of the novel, hitting Harry almost harder than Dumbledore’s death itself. The mystique of Dumbledore enchants us and is the main reason he’s such a beloved character. Hogwarts, which in itself is beloved, appears as the only place he’s attached to. What is Hogwarts without Dumbledore? It’s a haven for so many children, even once for Voldemort. Dumbledore’s characterization has so far been the most unusual since we haven’t learned anything actually about him, but we do manage to glean things from his interactions with others. What we really know about Dumbledore is what people think of him.

Here are a few additional thoughts on Half-Blood Prince:

The Discourse on Horcruxes:

The purpose of Horcruxes is to grant immortality by having a wizard or witch affix their soul to an object. They’re considered Dark Magic for two reasons: splitting a soul involves committing murder; having a broken soul leaves a magic user unstable and dangerous. Although most of you reading this already know what Horcruxes are, there’s a lot left out from the conversation, such as, what happens to the wizards and witches (Aurors), when they kill? Are their souls forever broken? Based on characters such as Mad Moody, Lupin, and Dumbledore, it’s hard to tell.

Rowling offers a nuanced discussion on the act of murder and its effects. In no way does Harry Potter approve of murder or its varying degrees. Half-Blood Prince suggests distinctions, however. Damaging the soul beyond repair requires a severe act of malice, which seems to imply killing the innocent or defenseless. While this idea makes sense, the finality of death and the irreversible consequences, I have to wonder if the criteria should take into account other acts like sexual assault and torture. I would think these would qualify, but this isn’t what this conversation ends up being about.

Horcruxes symbolize both a person’s hubris and sin, as in the divine kind governing most our morality.  I can see why they’re considered so dark. They’re basically trophies of someone’s irredeemable acts.

With That Said…Voldermort is an idiot

I feel like I need to write this in print one more time: Voldermort. Is. An Idiot.

Voldermort is the poster child of allowing his ego to encumber his rational-decision making. I’m well aware he’s less human now, but he’s leading an army and overtaking the Ministry, which, to his credit, displays some level of intelligence. Some.

But why would attach your soul to famous relics and heirlooms? Just…why?! His journal makes sense, but if I wanted to keep staying immortal, I would secure my soul to the most obscure object as possible…like a pen or a bookmark.

Did he, the most hated ‘man’ in the universe, think that this could just be the worst idea ever conceived? Did achieving immortality turn the lights off in his head? Horcruxes themselves are not invincible and you paint an even bigger target on them when they’re extremely well- known!

Maybe he’s lost some of his motor function from his days as Tom Riddle from splitting his soul into seven, but this just feels, all around, a haphazard plan.

This is exactly the problem with having too many yes men; there’s nobody with the bones to stand and say, ‘That’s ill-advisable, My Lord…Might I suggest a spare button instead?’

The Half-Blood Prince’s Book:

By far, this was my favorite part of the book.

I love books that have been written in them. It’s the main reason why during undergrad that I bought all my books used– not to mention, how economically affordable they were compared to the new copies. Including this in Half-Blood Prince was quintessentially my book-nerd fetish.  I honestly don’t know why more people don’t write in their books.

Let’s Talk About Ginny:

I admit, I wasn’t sold on Ginny at first.

Her appearance in the film is partially responsible. I saw her in the second film as a little girl obsessed with Harry Potter. She was also being mind-controlled by Voldemort. The next time she shows up? The sixth film. What?? Where in the world was Ginny Weasley in three, four, and five?

She was, of course, at Hogwarts, sometimes hanging out with Harry, her own friends, or with the boyfriend of the week (which I loved!) Ginny has a separate life outside of Harry’s, and unlike Hermione for Ron, she isn’t pinning for Harry. She’s dating, checking out her options (but surprisingly, this advice was given by Hermione???)

Ginny’s athletic, talented, and sharp when it comes to pointing out bullshit too. I thought, ‘where has this character been all this time?’ She’s always been there and adds a great dynamic to the already brilliant women in Harry Potter. Growing up in a house full of boys has taught her well.

Other things…

There is so much that goes on in Half-Blood Prince—Draco Malfoy’s reluctance in killing Dumbledore, Lupin’s commitment issues, Percy’s estrangement, Professor Slughorn’s regret, Ron’s vapidness—that discussing each one would be a blog in itself. I will say this: Half-Blood Prince presents what feels like a deliberate set-up to a finale. In comparison to the previous books, Half-Blood Prince is open-ended and thematically ties in with The Deathly Hollows–but that would leave our eyes dry and I think the overwhelming blood bath in the Deathly Hollows plus Dumbledore’s death would lead to a riot.

Most of what I want to discuss is unfinished. I just have to wait until I’ve finished the final book to formulate some lasting opinions.

Book Hiatus (2): The Personal Essay, NaNoWriMo

Dear Readers,

I will not be releasing any new book reviews and/or topics this week or the next. This is not to say I didn’t want to. I have two pieces I’m working on, the first discussing the implementation of trigger warnings and microaggressions, and the other a book review on Marie Lu’s sequel to her Young Elites novel series, The Rose Society. I really, really wanted to publish them; however, I have run into a dilemma.

As some of you may remember, I took a similar hiatus in the summer to engage what I called GRE Book Camp. For inquiring minds, I did well and would highly recommend Magoosh for the undisciplined and (sometimes) unmotivated person.

I’m now entering the last few phases of my graduate school application, which include the application itself—and personal essays. To say the least, I’m not a fan of writing personal essays. I love reading them though. Truly they are a wonder in how someone can compose beautiful, insightful, not to mention intelligent, pieces without making their essay into a loop of ‘I wants’ and ‘I’m interested because…” What’s more, they’re personal, something I struggle to incorporate into any kind of professional document. I worry it sounds too sappy, too sentimental, too general, or not mature enough to put for what I want to study in graduate school (gender studies and diverse literature plus more, FYI.) And just as I start to doubt myself, interpret my own weaknesses and shortcomings as unavoidable trips to failure town, I run into my maelstrom of anxiety, which almost always results in a Low—except this time.

Have I struggled with writing these essays? Of course!

Have I confronted a mountain of anxiety about them? Yupyupyupyup…

But I’m near finishing them, as in I’m plodding along editing them, tweaking things, and in the process, chewing on my nails (yes, yes, a bad habit.) Speaking of bad habits, which will explain the hiatus, I also tend not to prioritize my time well when it comes to items of importance. My book blog is important to me, and I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate my followers’ feedback and comments. Sadly, this is just one of those times where I have to lift the emergency brake up and spend my writing time working on my essays.

To add to this, I know I’m not the only one busy this month. Writers everywhere are planting their butts in moderately comfortable chairs in book stores, coffee shops, or just in their favorite spots to write a novel consisting of 50,00 words in the month of November. I wish everyone good luck with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)!!!

If you’re in need of inspiration, feel free to check out my mini blog series documenting my own trials with NaNoWriMo in 2014.

Every. Bit. Counts.

I will return Wednesday, November 25.

Sincerely,

Your resident Book Hermit.