French Milk by Lucy Knisley

French MilkIn the graphic novel French Milk, Lucy chronicles her month long visit with her mother in the enchanting city of Paris giving us plenty of illustrations on the city’s food and fashion, apparently the only things to have imprinted on her. A Goodreads’ summary describes French Milk as “grappling with the onslaught of adulthood” with both Lucy and her mother struggling “with their shifting relationship,” but the only noticeable struggle found is in the weather, long lines, and Lucy’s menstrual cramps. French Milk intrigues us with the notion of a 20-something woman’s exploration of the alluring, majestic city but leaves us wanting more observation and retrospect. Coming to terms with financial responsibility and intimacy as an adult is apparently a cakewalk.

Milk is more or less an illustrative diary. It’s compiled of dates, summaries, and illustrations cataloging her day. What we see is a transparent interpretation of her experience: what you see is what you get. Lucy offers little to no substance besides what she ate and wore. Lacking is a feeling of vulnerability and absorption of her surroundings. Lucy and her mother sightsee but don’t immerse themselves in the culture. We only read about the tourism aspect of the novel.

The narrator, twenty-two year old Lucy, delivers a mild interesting look at Paris that’s mostly juvenile. An art undergraduate student, Lucy finds things like Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, artwork, and the 2006 film of Marie Antoinette interesting, but Paris, a city she mentions she’s already been to, is nothing more than a hotspot for shopping. Some of the novel’s idiosyncratic moments are humorous, such as Lucy’s book-ending hangover or her mother’s early morning habit, but other than these funny moments, what we have is a narrator struggling to find and apply meaning from her current experience to her circumstances. We hardly learn about this alleged struggle between Lucy and her mother or Lucy’s young-adult problems. The narrator provides us a prosaic point of view that illustrates the widely, frustrating notion that 20-something can’t conceive anything profound and serious.

Lucy’s illustrations are fun and easy and quickly comb through her experiences. There’s no great effort shown but it’s this leisure-like quality that bolsters the tone of the story. Lucy animatedly depicts her shopping and culinary experiences but does so in the simplest of drawings. Unfortunately with the lackluster content and prose, the illustrations remain stagnant and never depart from literal depictions.

Milk should be recommended to anyone about to leave for a trip for Paris in the near future. Its story is tailored to meet the provincial desires of an American tourist (without a budget) and point him or her  in the right direction of Paris’s attractions (why she visited the Eiffel Tower three times I will never know…) It can act as a companion to anyone without any prior knowledge of Paris. For others, they’ll want something more substantial than a croissant.

Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill

Only Ever YoursOnly a handful of books make me tremble and cringe and Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours is now one of them. Compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Only Ever Yours is a YA dystopian novel about the subjugation of women, their sexuality, and their identity. The women are toxic, undermining, manipulative, narcissistic, insecure, and superficial and that’s only because they were designed this way and are otherwise known as eves—capitalization omitted intentionally. They’re artificially designed women since women are no longer born naturally. Yours feels unending of depravity and acerbic dialogue, with danger and destruction festering like a tumor, but it’s praiseworthy, evocative literature about femininity and gender inequality, nonetheless

Yours begins with freida, an eve who’s about to graduate to become a companion, a concubine, or a chastity. Eves attend a Ceremony to determine if they’re wife material, if they’re suited to a life of physically pleasing men, or if they’re a better fit to teach other future eves. But freida is more concerned about isabel, the #1 eve in the school and her best friend. Isabel suddenly distances herself at the beginning of their 16th year; she drastically falls in the rankings. To survive, freida latches onto the other top ten eves. Aimless and scared, freida herself becomes unraveled, losing weight, sleep, and her mind. Only when she meets Darwin, the #1 male in his class, that freida thinks she has a shot at a good life.

Yours is a subverted version of fairytales. There cannot be a happy ending because that would suggest that there was something right about this world when it’s already incredibly flawed. The politics and ideology of this absolute patriarchal world are long established and indoctrinated into the new generations. The damage to the eves’ psyche is extensive; they’re warped beyond repair. Unlike other YA dystopian novels where the protagonist saves the day or society revolts against the Totalitarian government, this YA dystopian is a bleak, unfavorable outcome to all women. Women aren’t permitted self-discovering or a moment of vulnerability because it may ruin their chances at happiness, which they’ve been fed (by men) to believe it’s in servicing men. They’ve been taught that the previous world, where men and women were allegedly treated as equals, was wrong. O’Neill’s resists the temptation to ostensibly write a favorable ending to preserve the notion that finding Mr. Right is still conforming to a patriarchal system denying women’s rights.

O’Neill captures with prose like butter on warm toast the significance of language and its correlation with gender roles and identity. Language is one of the most revealing trademarks in any culture especially when applied to gender roles. The one I like to bring up the most is how women are often referred to as ‘girls,’ when they are fully grown; however, referring to an adult man as a ‘boy’ is considered insulting or belittling. Yours reflects the derogatory language applied to eves that’s relevant in our culture. For example, the term ‘Feminist’ is seen as offensive in Yours. Too often this word in our culture is misinterpreted as a woman who hates men and is associated with stereotypes of domineering and bra-burning women; it means on a fundamental level a person that believes in gender equality. Yours represents the degradation of women’s value in how they omit capitalization from women’s names, not even considered proper nouns. Permissible to say, however, are ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ and even using the phrase ‘Fat Bitch’ is encouraged to keep an eve’s weight down. Negative reinforcement and shame are instruments used against eves to control them. Everything is tied to the language and circulated to maintain the patriarchy.

As for the characters, a few stand out in the bunch such as freida, isabel, megan, while the others blend together making it hard to differentiate between them, which obviously touches on another point. Personality—beside the chemically manic and barely tolerable vapid eves—is just another thing stripped from them, supplemented by the need to only please men. Freida is no different. Contained in her characterization is a powerful concern and want to appease everyone, the fear of disapproval puppeteering her body and severely influencing her choices. Dictating her choices from the start is her isolation from isabel, from her pack with the group, and from Darwin. She desperately seeks companionship, which in actuality is her need to wash out her latent insecurities and self-hate. So much of Yours, narrated by freida, laments the already troubling negative self-body notions we perpetuate and harsh criticism we throw at anyone’s body we deem flawed. Freida painfully reminds us of our own shortcomings as people and the damaging effects of the beauty industries exploiting this weakness, heavily suggested in Yours mantra, “there’s always room for improvement.” Freida’s counterparts, isabel and megan, exemplify the men’s ideals and embody their purpose. Although most of the novel conceals isabel’s story, megan is affront and mostly manipulative, and she knows it. She simply can’t help it. She was designed this way. All these women are victims of a world that deprives women of choice.

Another aspect of O’Neill’s novel resides in its gender discourse and criticism. Although Yours exists in a fictional world, several of what’s mentioned is all too familiar and upholds in our culture. Most of the eves are mindless caricatures, versions of stereotypes preconceived by men of what they believed was the ideal woman. Yours illustrates this by emphasizing a woman’s appearance as her only value compared to intellect, which the men prefer eves didn’t have. Eves essentially serve only three purposes, which Yours demonstrates in its Ceremony classifications. Everything boils down to a woman’s fertility or sexual performance. A chastity, a women not serving Man, is virtually useless. And while certainly many of these things may appear nonexistent, thinking we’ve evolved passed this, influences of patriarchy remain pervasive in our culture. Women (me) still don’t have complete medical authority over their bodies. Women (me) are still made to feel like pariahs when they abstain from having children. Walking down the street, women (me, again) are catcalled, and when they (me) argue at how uncomfortable it makes them, they’re (us) told their being ‘too sensitive,’ much like Yours does when one of the eves feels hurt. And when a woman is sexually assaulted, we still hear things like, ‘she was asking for it,’ see media circulating stories that make the rapist sympathetic, and the court rules in the rapist’s favor. Yes, Yours is an uncomfortable discussion on the treatment of women, but it’s one that’s necessary and worth having, not just for men but women. Identified in Yours is also the habit of women comparing themselves to others, making undercutting, snide remarks to mar each other’s self-esteem. Yours emphasizes disunity among women, even in Feminism with its tendency to overlook marginalized groups, referenced in the eves practically painting their face in white and a narrator who tries constantly to mask her brown skin. Of course, this is just more social commentary O’Neill adds about the beauty/modeling industry lacking diversity within their models and also the products they market.

I recommend Yours to anyone. If you’ve been shying away from books described as ‘Feministy,’ this is your chance to take the plunge. Although a disturbing, dark, unflinching horrific story, Yours pries our eyes open to discussions otherwise left unsaid, unnoticed, or not even known. Ignorance is not bliss; it’s a costly mistake.

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.

The Rose Society by Marie Lu

23846013Please be advised that there are spoilers peppered throughout this review, and I would feel terrible if your eyes dropped on spoiler bomb. SpoilersspoilersSPOILERS! You’ve now been warned four times.

In Marie Lu’s The Rose Society, the highly anticipated sequel to The Young Elites, we’re offered questions about morality and allegiance. Delivered with heart-racing prose, Society is a crazily paced story with non-stop shocks and twists. When we last saw Adelina Amouteru , she had been exiled by The Daggers and on the run with her sister Violet after Adelina inadvertently killed Enzo. Adelina’s bleakness prior to Society is different than her current situation. The Young Elites was thematically defined by its morose protagonist trying to find happiness by gaining acceptance via The Daggers. Society doesn’t harbor any of that plastic happiness. Make no mistake, Adelina now wants revenge which means inflicting as much collateral damage as possible to secure her place on Kenettra’s throne.

The characterization of Adelina is significant. Per Lu’s warning, Adelina undergoes a drastic change leading her to murder and manipulate those around her. This is hardly a surprise, however. Adelina’s choices are reactive from people who have ostensibly wronged her, and though she still intends to go after these people, her convictions have drastically changed to include the entire kingdom; hence, she’s transformed from an angry victim to a conqueror, or so it may seem. Adelina continues to assign blame to everyone in hopes it will somehow pacify her. Bitterness and self-pity tartly remain nestled in her psyche from the trauma incurred from years of neglect, abuse, and until recently, abandonment. Insofar the character development has primarily focused on Adelina’s agency and her crippling despair, having it burn like napalm and destroying everything it touches. Adelina has yet to come to terms with her pain and is using her vendetta as a distraction. This much is obvious to Violet but it doesn’t stop Adelina from turning on her too, but by this point in the novel, we know what to expect and the events leading up to the novel’s conclusion become prosaic.

Although Violet is one of the least-liked characters, she is more nuanced when compared to Adelina. Violet doesn’t fit into any kind of archetype nor is she an antagonist.  She’s credulous but not to a fault and can recognize when things begin to spiral out of control. Violet’s support of Adelina is tantamount to her guilt for neglecting Adelina all those years, yet she may very well be following her sister due to familial obligations. We don’t know why Violet does what she does, which makes us suspect there’s more to her. She’s a multifaceted character whose identity is separate from Adelina’s. They’re sisters who don’t automatically fall in line with whatever the other sister’s motives are, which gives Violet agency.

Society misses with its myriad of supporting characters by having most of them relegated to fodder for Adelina to use later to demonstrate how far she’s willing to go to get what she wants. Surviving Adelina’s dark wake is Magiano.  He initially brought more to the story with his gambit-like character but loses most of this once he falls for Adelina. And Raffaele —observant, gentle, seductive and merciless—functions mostly as a pretty face, his predominant role involving seducing the Queen. Other members of the Dagger society are reduced to a veneer of camaraderie with their connection with Adelina portrayed superficially. So much is removed from the supporting characters that when Adelina takes them down, we can’t muster up the energy to grieve for them.

Society’s twist undermines Adelina character development and is egregious to the novel’s themes. For Adelina, deteriorating mental health is a side effect of excessively using her power. Once this knowledge is learned, it strips away all Adelina’s agency. She’s not in control or soberly making decisions. By introducing this twist, it consequently makes Adelina a helpless victim who can’t save herself anymore, which means someone will have to save her (different definitions of ‘save’ may apply.) What I loved while reading Society was the idea of having a strong, female protagonist, who may not have been the most liked or the most charitable, choose a darker path to reach her goals, but that doesn’t hold true anymore. She is more or less someone suffering from Schizophrenia. Her condition is sabotaging and influencing her choices, leaving us more with questions about how to treat people suffering from mental illness and if they’re absolved of criminal responsibility, a contentious topic right now in my country.

I look forward to seeing the events play out in the next and last book of the trilogy. With only Raffaele and Violet knowing of the side effect, I wonder how they will handle this information and if it will change their opinion of Adelina. Raffaele wouldn’t hesitate if it came down to killing Adelina because of his loyalties to Enzo; Raffaele may even think he’s killing her out of mercy. But I see the final confrontation occurring where it started: with the sisters. Adelina has always compared herself to Violet and seen her as a source of misery. Violet, who’s been privileged by beauty and favoritism,  must also come to terms with what’s happened since, as demonstrated in Society, not talking about it made Adelina lash out even more.  Adelina may just be following the same path as the kings before her, but for now, she sits alone on her thrown with nothing but her crown and whispers.

 

 

Post Book Hiatus: Ongoing

Hiatus

I hope everyone had a good holiday. Remember when I said that I would have a post ready by November 25? Yeah, that clearly didn’t happen. My brain short circuited several times this last week/weekend, what with the turkey, the family, and the cluster-fuck of people shopping along with maintaining a poor diet and exercise routine that extended for several days and eventually sent me spiraling down a deep, cavernous Low, which I’ve only recently recovered from. It wasn’t until Sunday that I realized, “oh, it’s Sunday…which usually proceeds sometime after Wednesday…”

Even if I had remembered, I wouldn’t have had anything to offer. I’m still chipping away at the lovely mess called ‘writing.’ The book review I originally wrote on Marie Lu’s The Rose Society was just plain awful. It sort of read like someone pumped with adrenaline who couldn’t muster anything except a cacophony of squeals and squeaks from a kid going to Disney world for the first time. I wouldn’t subject anyone to that kind of torture.

Now that I have submitted and completed my applications for graduate school (yay!), I have nothing except time…sort of. Let’s just say that my free time has been spent catching up on other things that I’ve neglected…such as binge walking the premiere of Marvel’s Jessica Jones (it was amazzzzzing!), the new season of Once Upon A Time (kill Zelena for the greater good already!), Supergirl (verdict is still out on this show), and The Man in the High Castle (only two episodes but I like it so far). There’s also Anime like Owarimonogatari, Steins Gate, and other shows I’m screening at the moment. While I realize this is a lot of TV watching, I figure slacking off on my book reading for a week isn’t going to kill me, but it’ll be the death penalty if I continue to watch TV for the rest of my life, for my bones and brain.

What I can offer are updates on things to look forward to in the next several weeks, however.  Post will resume on Wednesday, December 9.

Coming Soon!!!

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

Trigger Warnings and Microaggressions

Book Review: Marie Lu’s The Rose Society

Book Review: Alison Brosh’s Hyperbole and Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

 My Week with Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 7

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird Box“It’s that time of year and what better way to celebrate the season with a book that will try its best to play tricks on you. No mind games (maybe a smidge), but when you’re not allowed to see anything, everything around you is your enemy,” is everything I would have wrote if I had published this BEFORE Halloween; yet, here we are, days after the best time of the year with a novel ripe for this breezy, chilly, foggy season.

Debuting last year, Josh Malerman’s Bird Box is a suspenseful, mysterious novel that’s an infectious read. You’re compelled to keep reading, whether it’s to learn more about a) the mysterious creatures that cause people to ‘erase’ themselves b) what happened four years that left Malorie, our female protagonist, the lone adult survivor in the house with her children Boy and Girl [not at all emotionally detached] c) if Malorie can survive long enough to reach her destination while blindfolded, her only defense against the creatures.

After a one-night stand, Malorie discovers that she is pregnant, and as it so happens, there’s a bigger catastrophic phenomenon sweeping the planet known as the Russian Report, thought to be where the phenomenon occurred. People go insane, sometimes committing murder, but always ending with the infected person committing suicide.

When the disease hits Alaska, Malorie along with her sister Shannon take refuge in their house, knowing that to survive, they must board up their house to prevent whatever it is that’s causing people to, as the media calls it, ‘self-destruct’. After Malorie’s sister dies, Malorie leaves to seek help at a house occupied by a few survivors. It becomes more apparent though that the people of this new world have lost more than the luxury of their sight.

In way of its narration, Malerman disperses with two time lines: four years after the Russian Report and the days leading up to Malorie’s pregnancy. Immediately, we are introduced to the chaos and horrors of the new world coinciding with her unexpected pregnancy (a not so subtle metaphor.) There’s rarely a moment to pause to consider anything for very long.

Malerman invents an intriguing yet isolating world. He takes the one aspect of everyday life that we take for granted and undermines our own security. Having read John Wyndam’s The Day of the Triffids, a global plague of blindness that infects anyone witness to the meteor shower, Malerman’s novel similarly evokes the chilling fear and helplessness, but unlike Triffids, Bird Box is more abstract; the creatures are never revealed and much about what happens to the world remains unanswered. Identifying and knowing what we’re afraid is one thing, but not having an idea of the monster’s shape or its thoughts is another. And this is assuming that there were creatures at all.

While Bird Box is not the most descriptive of novels considering its premise of taking refuge in a safe house and wearing a blindfold when going outside, it’s rapid firing sensory descriptors triggers just the right imagery and appropriate tension. The characters’ vulnerability is palpable when they’re feeling their way through the backyard or to a house next door. Without sight, the emotions are intensified, leaving a lot of the characters and their reactions to situations raw. Subsequently, Bird Box is left with the bare minimum, its characters skeletons and metaphors flimsy.

With its excellent pacing and its white-knuckling moments, Box inadvertently forgoes any real character development. Malorie, although undergoes significant trauma, is an observer, who oddly surfaces as the reluctant leader-drill-sergeant mother. This is not to belittle her experiences (her experience with giving birth made my insides and my vagina lurch: never, ever, EVER, having kids,) but the glut of character development is lost, which usually occurs in most post-apocalyptic stories when the circumstances of the new world subsume the plot and characters’ own lives. Auto drive sets in and characters’ ambitions are abandoned for survival. Malorie embodies this notion as does her housemates. To my disappointment, I can only describe each character with one word.

Most of what I loved about the style and fluidity doesn’t compensate for its clumsy symbolism, i.e., the bird box. While the image itself is spectacular, Malorie and the children under a canopy of mad birds, there’s hardly anything else. Even the bird imagery, which potentially has several meanings, feels awkward. It’s the one part of the novel that feels out of place. Usually I love when a novel’s title finds its way onto the pages, yet this may be a rare instance when I wish it had just stayed as the book’s title. It ends up being more literal than a metaphor.

Box had only two viable conclusions, which is something I usually don’t enjoy.  This is very much a novel about survival, testing one’s limitations, and what part of your humanity are you willing to discard. With few surprises, Bird Box is still entertaining and creepy and will fill up your afternoon with excitement; however, if you’re susceptible to these kinds of stories (like me), do yourself a favor and keep it away from your nightstand before going to bed. One of the last few passages of the books is one that’ll haunt anyone with a reproductive system.

Just saying.