The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

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“Amanda Palmer…the one from TED Talks?”

I really didn’t know what to make of Amanda Palmer other than being this eccentric creature submersed in her artwork. Neither had I listened to any of her music prior to reading her memoir nor did I stay religiously up to date on her revolutionary upheaval of the music industry. Amanda Palmer’s memoir The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help replaces the unknown I previously had about her, capturing Amanda Palmer both as an artist and a person. Famous for successfully using Kickstarter as a means of crowdsourcing to release an album and continuing this way of practice in promoting and selling her later work, she confesses her insecurities in this memoir: from asking her fans for donations to her fear of being seen as a narcissist, self-serving poser.

To encapsulate, Amanda Palmer is a musician whose art is best described as eclectic; she uses different instruments and incorporates unique, experimental styles to form these raw and tonal sounds. Plus, she plays the ukulele. The Art of Asking is the unabridged version of her 2012 Ted Talk as well as her band’s war against her record label. The memoir delves into her relationship with famous author Neal Gaiman and her lifelong mentor and friend Anthony, who was living with cancer during the book’s conception. Most of the book, however, is a descriptive catalog of astonishing—but not always—instances where Palmer asks her fans for help and not just in the form of currency (housing, food, venues, etc.) Palmer leaves herself incredibly susceptible to the generosity of others. Although Palmer has witnessed the capacity of human kindness through her art and openness in accepting whatever the fans are willing to offer, she has to contend with being heavily criticized and occasionally painted as a shameful beggar in mainstream media. After reading her memoir though, she’s anything but a beggar and more of an entrepreneur.

Palmer explains that much of what she learned came from her years as a performance artist, her days as a living statue. While she originally did it to be her own boss and still be able to do art, remarking on the conundrum of having a liberal arts degree but not having an itinerary in pursuing a career in the arts, she engaged with her audience on an personal level through mostly an unspoken language and penetrating eye contact, conveying that she had truly seen them versus only looking at them. Palmer realized that finding that connection, even a tiny exposure of intimacy, is what most anyone needs, and she is ready to give it.

Is the Art of Asking a smooth and tired joyride of one person getting exactly what she wants?

No.

Make that a hard no.

Palmer struggled with finances along with her own pride; her memoir illustrates this in the case of her husband. After Palmer assembled a new band and wanted to go on tour, she tried to figure out how she would come up with the money to pay everyone. Her husband offered to loan her the money (though he didn’t expect her to pay him back) but this made her extremely uncomfortable. She had already accepted money from complete strangers, however, accepting money from her husband felt like it would be violating her feminist principles. Only when she sets her pride aside does she recognize the hypocrisy. Then there are times when Palmer doesn’t receive any help even after asking. After Palmer hurt her ankle while running, the three people she asked for help didn’t offer any assistance other than to call an ambulance, ergo, treating her like someone else’s problem. Living a life where you put your faith in others has also landed her in unfavorable sometimes disconcerting situations. One of her fans stole her favorite ukulele at one of her shows. It’s eventually returned but not after Palmer mourned over its loss for two weeks. At another show, a fan shoved a hand between Palmer’s legs while she’s crowd surfacing–and in a not so accidental way. Despite this, Palmer treats each mishap and break in trust as an isolated incident instead of empirically; she doesn’t apply one instance as a universal reason to mistrust everyone nor does she ever seem to hold a grudge.

Palmer’s lifestyle, willing to ask people for help for anything, is an extreme case, but it reveals what most of us are reluctant to do, even when we find ourselves in trouble, even when it’s irrational not to. Most of us are resistant to the idea of putting ourselves in someone else’s care because of its implications. That they are weak, incompetent. A failure. Or when we want something, such as asking for a raise or help changing a flat tire, we synonymously treat ‘asking’ like ‘begging,’ which Palmer is quick to clarify the difference: begging happens out of fear and desperation whereas asking occurs out of need and compassion. Palmer’s memoir captures the general goodness of people if you open yourself to them—but she’s not insisting everyone do this. She’s been lucky, and she knows it.

What we find is something remarkably rare and beautiful in this memoir, leading us to believe that maybe opening ourselves to others isn’t as scary or deadly as we feel it is. Then again, as Palmer puts it, if it were so easy, then everyone would be doing it.

 

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–and How to Make the Most of them Now

The defining decade

My dad asked, “you actually read books that talk about that stuff?”

I nodded. “Of course…”

We were referring to Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—and How to Make the Most of Them Now, a book that obviously falls into the genre of Self-Help and Personal Development. I wanted something I could read during my business trip to Virginia with some much needed guidance because

  • I had never flown solo before.
  • I had never done a week long interview for any kind of job before.

To say the least, I was stressed. The Defining Decade kept things in perspective for me, helped remind me that the overwhelming thing I was doing wasn’t crazy but actually good for me, my mind, and career.

The introduction put me at ease. It wasn’t a guide of how you should be living, which, admittedly, is a problem a lot of us feel in our twenties, that we’re expected to reach something at a certain point. We see our friends with successful careers or they’re getting married and going on to visit the baby factory. And Facebook doesn’t make this any easier, subjecting us to Instagram photos of our friends’ ostensible perfect lives, forgetting that said friend is probably sleep deprived from spending all night with a crying baby, unbalanced between career and family life, or struggling with their self-worth because the last time they probably had a true minute alone was before the mom turned into a human incubator (don’t worry, I’m not planning on having children.)

What really grabbed my attention was Jay’s emphasis on young adults putting their lives on hold with the lag causing long-term consequences. It’s one of the things my own dad tried to instill in me when I was in my earlier twenties, advice I ignored partially because of Depression (because, really, who thinks about a 401K when you’re suicidal?) and the other thinking that the future wasn’t a real thing. The future was just something you thought about but never could engage with since it felt like a galaxy, far, far away. You could only live in the present, which I interchangeably treated as ‘living in the moment.’ The funny part? I was not that person in college.

I was always working towards something with the end goal feeling abstract but shiny and full of lots of potential. I felt secure when I was working towards my degree. No matter how terrible my commencement speech was (he might as well have been a loan shark), everything made sense and felt like things were falling into place. When I received my diploma, I blithely walked down the stairs, not a thought in my head of the future.

We end up becoming desensitized to the word future, printed on every career brochure and banner, crammed into commencement speeches and counseling talks, using the term at least a 100 times; the familiarity of the word, its constant presence on campus, and the very idea that since you’re in college you’re already working towards your future, makes us immune to the depths of its meaning, Then college ends and the nice, contained space where you knew where you were going is gone and you feel like you’re navigating with a broken compass.

Being stuck in limbo, whether it’s your career or love life, is lethargically miserable; it just StuckCatis. Conveying it to family and friends who seem to have their lives all figured out is worse because you can’t really talk to them without spilling out every thought in your head and leaving them to pick through the rubble of all your what-if future ambitions. If you don’t have a plan within a certain time frame, then comes the advice. Even if it’s coming from a place of good intentions, it’s still frustrating and often comes off as condescending. Of course you’ve updated your resume, checked out that firm, talked to that guy, volunteered at that sheltered, contacted that old boss of yours for a recommendation letter, etc.  Chances are that whatever they think you should do is probably something you’ve already tried before, the impulse to yell or rip their hair from their roots suddenly not sounding so crazy.

Jay’s book recounts her sessions with twenty-somethings trying to find what they want out of life. The pieces will generally resonate with most twenty-somethings who feel lost or don’t feel like they’re living up to their potential, but the content is not formulaic. She’s not telling everyone that getting married and having children equates to instant gratification. Having goals toward the future tends to feel more self-satisfying and enables you to pursue other things in life.

She discounts the myth that our twenties are throw away years, the idea that, because we’re young, we have all the time in the world to do things that have no effect on the future (if you’re about to board a flight to Europe—just ignore this and do your thing.) The problem occurs that after leaving college that twenty-somethings treat the present as dislocated time, the impression that things now are temporary  and they’ll magically change.

They don’t.

Jay doesn’t lecture with ‘get a job’ but supports with evidence and statistics of people leading more satisfied lives when their working towards goals. Much of the book contains individualized stories involving twenties who are indecisive, incredibly afraid of choosing the wrong path, avoiding making families because of their own damaged lives, not networking enough because their safe in their small groups, lacking discipline to stay in a job that will lead to other opportunities (been there,) working a job they hate, and just not engaging with the consequences of delaying plans for a later date (waiting till your forties to have a child for instance.) This book primarily discusses issues about pursuing goals and adjusting to adulthood, which I know many of us tend to see as a graveyard of dreams but it’s not.

With all that said, the book tends to overlook circumstantial issues influenced by ethnicity, economics, and sexual orientation. She points out, however, that those issues can fill a book by itself, which I sincerely hope she gets around to writing. The book also has the problem of not covering other life alternatives such as choosing not to marry or never having children.

The book is written for twenty-somethings, not to the parents trying to get their twenty-somethings to move out of their house. It maturely speaks to twenty-somethings despondent or lost in their lives, but provides the needed incentive to go out and change things.

You don’t have to feel like you’re a kid stuck on the high board at the pool with everyone’s eyes trained on you, waiting for you to make a choice (based off a true story.) It gets better.

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Book Series Edition: The Unwind Series, Part 2

Undivided

I’m ambivalent about the Unwind series. It contains an interesting dystopia concept and plenty of political and medical criticism, but it’s far from being a perfect book. Actually, several parts felt like hiccups, so acutely off rhythm that you can’t help but notice them. Unwind struggles with character development and maintaining a propelling plot. While the series is interesting, the peculiar plot choices and the passivity of the female characters makes me reluctant in fully recommending this series, even though books one and four are definitely worth a read.

Unlike part one, the following comments below contain spoilers:

That Creepy, Creeeeeeeepy Scene:

What happens when someone is unwind? Many theories get tossed around about this one with everyone choosing to believe that a person is sedated and then put to sleep. If only.

Patients are awake during the unwinding operation! While the patients are sedated, they simply watch as every part of them is harvested, like Hannibal Lector eating your brain while you’re awake. How is this kind of operation possible? Well, science—I guess.

Unlike others, I wasn’t at all prepared for this passage. After reading it, I had to put the book down to process. Unwind isn’t known for its writing, but this particular passage illustrating a teenager’s unwinding is truly one of the most disturbing things I’ve read in a while.

Like, OMG! Girls Chasing Boys! Like. OMG. Girls Chasing Boys?

Risa Ward is smart. She knows fighting is a last resort. Connor quickly picks this up too, allowing him to become the leader of the Graveyard and later represent the ideas of the unwinding resistance movement. Connor matures, as he should, but instead of Connor adopting Risa’s resourcefulness, which would add to their dynamic duo, Connor subsumes her role as the team’s strategist while being leader, but Risa is sidelined as the helpless, stuck in yet another love triangle, girlfriend; her being belongs to everyone but her own.

Unwind robs not only Risa of potential badassery, but many of the other female characters, most who remain in supportive and/or love interest roles:

  • Miracolina; Lev’s love interest.

Although she has all the workings to be this tenacious force in the series (she’s arguably far more committed to her own convictions than Risa), she doesn’t stay in the rotating cast of character for very long. She’s actually the only third-person narrator to drop out of the series. We see her at the end just in time for her to start a long-distance relationship with Lev–because this is what every girl wants after pining for a guy for supposedly two years.

  • Bam (Bambi): She’s in love with Starkey.

Unlike the other girls in the story, Bam’s happy ending doesn’t involve ending up with anyone. She’s Starkey’s second in command and also secretly in love with Starkey. Only when Bam discovers Starkey’s secret harem does she decide to stage a mutiny against Starkey—but she has to have help. Hayden is the brains of the operation and orchestrates the entire kidnapping (and dumping) of Starkey. She’s been Starkey’s second in command for months and a leader in her own right, but she had to go to Hayden for a plan, which wasn’t even a complicated one: drug everyone including Starkey, drop him in the middle of nowhere, and relocate the Stork troops while Starkey’s out cold. She apparently had to go to him.

Every girl has a romantic partner. Even Una, who tragically lost her fiancé, ends up finding love in a guy that has her deceased fiancé’s  hand—and I wish I were kidding

Unwind ascribes stagnant roles to women that only draw emphasis to the male characters. Every significant step forward is made by a man. Connor takes down the flying harvest factory. Lev sacrifices himself on national television, waking people up to the issues of unwinding. Let’s not forget that Risa also was on television two years earlier, outing the corruption of Proactive Citizenry, but no one paid attention to this apparently.

This is a story about people being treated as just a bunch of parts, which subsequently is how the story treats its female characters. The Unwind series represents only a singular, if not poor, interpretation of women.

Change Takes Time

Unwind’s ending delivers promise to a better world. Because of Lev’s stunt—faking a terrorist-clapper bombing so people would shoot him dead—makes the world reexamine the moral consequences of unwinding teenagers.

When Connor, having been rewound, shows up in Washington ready to diplomatically fight the problem, it shows just the beginning of the solution. Rebuilding. Reconstruction. Proper Representation. Laws.  These are things that were introduced and make the ending somewhat satisfying.

Overall, Unwind had its entertaining moments, and made sure everyone in the end got what they ‘deserved,’ but it falls to pieces in its plot and character departments. Although not a well-known series, Unwind does belong on someone’s shelf of dark dystopia, but it is, perhaps, too ‘morbid’for some too read.

Blogger Note:

So sorry for the infrequent posting. To say the least, a number of issues have marred me in the last couple months: Lows, online class, sickness, and horrrrrible reading dry spells. The good news? Online class shall soon end, the sickness is going away, and OMG, I’ve got my reading groove back! Yay! I should be back to posting regularly soon.

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.

 

Mental Health Hiatus: Winter IS the Worst

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Greetings Everyone,

I’m not a fan of winter. It’s cold. It’s terrible driving weather. And while snow is charming, in its pure white form, when it melts, it’s ugly, and then you have mud and rocks and leftover ice that looks like broken teeth. Winter and I only get along when I’m indoors buried under a mountain of blankets and wrapped snuggly on top of my bed binge watching for the 10th time Gilmore Girls, which isn’t the smartest counter measure or strategy when suffering a Low.

As I’ve mentioned before in my previous posts, I suffer from Clinical Depression. For the last month or so, during this fine winter we’re having, I’ve been hit with some major Lows so strong it’s completely thrown off my emotional circuitry, i.e., I’ve been struggling to feel anything. I’ve felt like an eyeball most days. While I mentioned lying in bed, I happen to be one of those “well-functioning” Depressed people, who can still pay their bills, clean their house, and cook their meals—but working out, reading books, and even writing are obstacles for me at the moment. Whenever I try to write anything, it feels forced or someone else’s voice is hijacking my words. This has made writing reviews difficult and, yes, reading.

Here’s some good news: I am still reading at a walking pace. I am writing, evident from this short piece.

And here’s the bad news: I have no book review or book related topic for you guys today. Besides my limited emotional capacity that I just described, All The Bright Places was way, way, way, WAY, too close to home for me and brought up all these bags of feelings stuffed with tears, guilt, stupidity, remorse, and regret; yet, I feel awake again and feel closer to my old self.

To make a long story short, I’m taking some time for my mental health this week. I didn’t want to post nothing like I did two week ago. I will be back next week with a review hopefully on Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, which, despite my emotional response to it, is really a book I think everyone should read at least once (but I’m biased.)

Stay frosty and thank you guys for your patience!

Bests,

Your Local Resident Book Hermit

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

20820994I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson is a beautiful, coming-of-age story about finding yourself when everything feels shared, less, or not your own. The death of their mother significantly changes Noah and Jude, fraternal twins struggling to feel a sense of belonging. Sun is narrated by the shifting perspectives of Noah and Jude, from the year before their mother’s death to three years later. Even before the life-changing event, Noah and Jude were opposites in every way, competitive for their parents’ attention and a yearning for acceptance, but once things change, they flip personas. Sun creates a vacuum only for self-discovery with everything and everyone being conveniently pulled to one place. It’s about breaking free of encumbering labels, self-perpetuating guilt and shame, and rediscovering the magic.

Before Noah’s mother died, Noah was passionately consumed with art. Whenever he was emotionally entangled or brainstorming, he conceptualized paintings in his mind. His sister Jude was a surfer girl with latent, artistic talents but more interested in boys and parties than trying to get into a prestigious, art school, which was all Noah wanted. Flash forward three years later: Noah is sports guy and taking stupid risks by jumping off steep cliffs and not doing art anymore while Jude is attending the prestigious art school that Noah didn’t get into. She’s not surfing or going to parties anymore. Instead she’s creating misshaped clay sculptures (divine repercussions,) chatting with her Grandma (a figment of her imagination or possibly divine intervention,) and relying on her Grandma’s bible of superstition, quoting verses that are so unfounded but funny (like putting an onion in your pocket will bring you good luck.) She has already come apart at this point. After the death of their mother, Noah and Jude both put their lives on pause and just exist now. Then Jude’s teacher sends her over to be mentored by the “Rock Star of the Sculpture World” Guillermo Garcia, who’s a typical austere, tortured artist archetype. Beforehand, while waiting in a church, Jude meets the charismatic, chatterbox Oscar Ralph and everything changes.

What works best in Sun is its two, young adult protagonist. Noah and Jude engage us with witty commentary and playful banter containing symbols and metaphors. Noah and Jude play this game where they offer parts of the world off to each other. When Jude sees one of Noah’s drawings, she must have it and offers the sun to him as well as most everything else, except the flowers because Noah lets her have those. As twins, they already share most things with having both of them feel like they’re compromising or bargaining for things, which extends to how they feel about their parents and their friends. The mother, while wanting both of them to attend art school, spends most of her time with Noah on museum trips. When Noah’s crush Brian meets Jude for the first time, Noah wants to shut her out. After Noah and Brian join Jude’s posse of friends, Jude feels she’s snuffed out of the group. Sun constantly feels like it’s having these characters go back and forth with each never feeling there’s a place for them. Noah and Jude are ostensibly opposites but it feels more like a response to the other. Jude’s art only really surfaces when Noah decides to quit art. Jude stops surfing only for Noah to take on sports, creating this constant see-saw effect between the two characters. Nelson maps out a story that’s peppered with ambiguous lessons, stripping the black and white world to one full of colors. It’s not one way or the other.

Sun delicately weaves two different kinds of love stories but never goes excessively into the romance department. The twin’s experiences with love start with someone noticing them apart from being twins. Their love interests don’t know Noah and Jude as “NoahandJude.”  Even while the characters are falling in love, Sun is far from being another love story and emphasizes the kind of people Noah and Jude are intimately.  Noah’s story is painful, confusing, yet beautiful because of his narration of when the world, although doesn’t ostracize him (everyone kind of knew he was gay before he did,) makes him feels less of man when already he prefers arts over sports and doesn’t live up to his dad’s definition of masculinity. Noah’s conflicted about his identity, his sexual orientation, and belonging anywhere when it feels to him like so much of what he loves has to be kept reserved and he’s forced to live a lie. Jude struggles with breaking from that image of being “that girl,” which her mother often called her. When she loses her virginity to some guy in a car, the other guys determine she’s easy and brand her a slut. Afterwards she’s insecure and aimless trying to find her mom in her artwork, which she claims keeps breaking because her mom is angry with her. She’s trying to find forgiveness and a chance to start over. Love ends up being more transformative than a means of escape for each of the characters. There’s romance but it never replaces the twin’s personal stories.

But on the other hand, Sun is surprisingly a small world. Each character is connected in some way with some kind of purpose. While I love stories like this, cynics will toss their eyes at the many, MANY coincidences that arise at the end and at how smoothly everything comes together. Sun borders on being too miraculous but wins out by having almost all its characters happy and together, briefly suspending our disbelief and making us believe in the notions of prophecies. There’s a kind of invisible force in Sun that takes your broken spirit and turns it into your best self.