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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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!

 

 

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.

 

 

Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno CoverPacked with fun and craftiness, Dan Brown’s Inferno originally debut in 2013 and was well received overall by critics. Lost during the four hundred and eighty pages of Robert Langdon trotting through Italy though is any kind of deviation from the structured plot stringent to the tropes of the mystery and thriller genre. It makes everything extremely predictable. Inferno is not a loved or hated book but it’s so specifically mapped out in its stories and characters, which Brown also applies to his other novels, that it makes for a mediocre story with few punches but an ending that will knock you right in your polar vortex.

Robert Langdon wakes up in the hospital with no memory of the last few days. He’s in Italy with some kind of head wound. He meets the talented, resourceful (beautiful, of course) Sienna Brooks. Not long afterwards, they are running for their lives from a mysterious organization who seem to perceivably want Langdon dead. In the events that unfold, Langdon soon finds himself caught in the middle of a plot in which he must piece together clues to help not only prove his innocence but also save the population from a catastrophic engineered virus.

One of the book’s selling points is the references to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, which as you would expect, coincides with nearly every part of the story and also prompts us to try and solve the next clue. Here Langdon is in his element and where the story feels strongest and self-confident, but then the story begins to wobble; it tries too hard to misdirect us and undermines some of the novel’s setup and we’re suddenly in a different kind of story.  There are no villains here, but apparently there are a number of heroes and dark knights. Everyone’s motive is quintessentially for the greater good, and although that thought is an interesting concept, Inferno simply pastes these ideas together without really exploring it.

And while the art references are certainly one of the highlights of novel, it’s also hinders it. The art exposition morphs into fodder towards the end. Langdon’s commentary on the art pieces, which he’s supposedly seen on more than one occasion, should be treated more like footnotes instead of being incorporated into the main story. They just don’t elevate the story or its characters–other than to reaffirm that Robert Langdon is an art historian and, yes, he loves art. I don’t know whether if he’s aplomb or if he’s just extremely desensitized by this point in the story. And let’s not forget to mention how Mr. Robert Langdon was disorientated from his initial ordeal; yet he seems to function just fine at solving the mystery, as if it’s just a game of cross-word puzzle to him. Granted he is a smart man, but it feels too convenient for him and too much of a stretch for me to jump on board Langdon’s art knowing wizardry. The idea itself is silly, but without it, the story would be less entertaining, which is the sole purpose of reading it considering the plot ends up being a wild goose chase.

Sienna Brooks, however, is an exceptional, strategic, and compassionate woman. It’s hard to believe she’s only sidekick material though. She possesses an incredible amount of tenacity and intellect that surpasses Langdon. Knowing her involvement in the story, it’s a surprise she’s downgraded mostly to a supportive role. Complicating this is Inferno’s conventional story and character growth. Boxed in by a formulaic plot, the character development is contained; hence, Sienna Brooks provides just enough smarts and conversation to move the story along.

Inferno wears you down eventually and you’re ultimately sucked into its absorbing plot in saving the world from a mad scientist bent on dealing with the overpopulation problem, which is possibly my favorite part. It ends up being more unexpected than you would think considering how everything is so neatly placed.

But Brown’s style of writing has its own problems, employing short chapters that end with ‘suspenseful’ cliffhangers. I’m well aware that this story is a mystery/thriller; yet I feel it’s disabling the writing and content. Most of these chapters are sprints. Anything significant is held for the very end and then wraps up at the beginning of the next chapter. This tactic is done in nearly every chapter and quickly loses its effect.

We also see this in some of Inferno’s miscellaneous characters. Although some are intriguing, it just doesn’t serve to highlight them, especially when their only purpose is to open the door for the two main characters to make their getaway. Just—why? To appreciate the Average Joe by reinforcing the notion that Average Joe can only do average things? Need I remind that buried in these pages is an ostensible threat to kill off most of the population?

A banal story, Inferno still serves its purpose in distracting our attention and leading us toward a conclusion, and it does so in the most entertaining way possible; however, there is little satiating substance that can be found in its story and characters. It’s a novel not worth taking too seriously but can pacify your boredom on a Sunday afternoon.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Spoilers are contained in this review.

41yZreG2lcL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I love it when a book has characters so interesting, so convincing, that for a moment, I have to set the book down and tell myself that this is only a story. It’s easy to forget when everything seems so real yet fantastical.

Gillian Flynn masterfully invents characters eerily authentic, broken, and dysfunctional and leads us down a macabre of events both gripping and sobering. For those idly rolling in the sheets with their new partners or long-standing significant others, Gone Girl can be treated as a cautionary tale of taking your partner for granted and betraying his or her trust. After you’ve taken that time to reevaluate your commitments, Girl is more than  a quick lesson on marriage; it’s a very poignant, honest take on peoples’ relationships, how their quirks and aberrations tie them together better than trying to shoehorn yourself into ideal marriage. With this said, The Dunne are not normal and shouldn’t be considered in any way what a healthy adult relationship looks like. When you have a moment where you’re doubting your relationship, take solace in knowing it could be worse—so thank you, Nick and Amy.

The last thing Nick Dunne expected on his five year wedding anniversary was for his wife Amy to go missing. When the police and town of Missouri launch an investigation, things quickly start to spiral out of Nick’s control and learns he’s the prime suspect in her disappearance. As the story reaches its twist, average, nice guy Nick isn’t who we thought he is nor is Amy.

Girl’s narrative style ostensibly exposes all angles of the story by telling it through the perspective of Nick and Amy. Just when we think we know everything that’s going on, it subverts our expectations with unreliable narrators. Girl best demonstrates misdirection with first-point perspective and is essentially metafictional. From the media’s presence in the story, the narrators are already acutely aware that their actions are being observed; yet, the narratives seem to suggest these characters are persuasively speaking to us and imply how that they’re self-conscious in their actions.

By now Girl’s twist is widely known especially if you’ve seen the film’s adaptation of it. (Spoiler Alert:) Amy is not in fact kidnapped, raped, or dead but on the run to frame her husband for her murder; thereby, charging him with the death penalty. She’s alive and well and deeply disturbed. The entire time, she’s feverishly watching media coverage of her disappearance/murder and making sure everything is falling into place.

The diary entries are a beautiful token of who Amy is—and isn’t. It’s used to undermine our impressions of her but also used to show her fluctuating agency. She describes herself as being a miracle after her mother’s several miscarriages and subsequently perceives herself as important, surviving with no great effort on her part. This, as well as her parents’ book series Amazing Amy, feeds her need for affection. The effects of this, however, create a subterfuge of Amy, her personality changing more often than people change clothes. It’s arguably normal for people to do this, but for Amy, she’s not experimenting for existential reasons; it’s in part because she’s bored and another to manipulate others, whether to have them like her or to punish them for wronging her.

While the media unsurprisingly choose to dissect the psychopathic characteristics of Amy, what I think Girl probes most is the contingency of identity. The novel places an emphasis on the characters’ proximity (New Yorkers to Missouri, M-i-s-e-r-y), spouse (Nice Guy to Cheating Husband/Cool Girl to Psycho Bitch), careers (Writer to Unemployed). These themes are prevalent throughout the novel.

If I have not mentioned this by now, Girl is entertaining, not in the sense that reality shows are all train wrecks we watch to make ourselves feel better, but in the way that it’s written and how the events play out. What I loved most about the book was its characters. Definitely Amy Elliott, by far, receives the most attention, with Vanity Fair proclaiming that she’s “the most disturbing female villain of all time.

Our first impressions of Nick and Amy end up being the polarized opposites: from loyal husband to lazy, cheating scumbag and from doting wife to conniving, narcissistic woman. They’re intentionally frauds, putting on a show for everyone. That’s just who they are at their core, playing their part to feed their avarice egos.

Part of the reason the media and readers narrow in on Amy has to do with two things: her excessive manipulating, toxic personality and her unapologetic, language she exhibits that is quite empowering. She makes us nervous, but she’s charming. She also may be a personification of our dirty laundry. Whether we want to admit it or not, a good chunk of our lives is just for show, represented exaggeratedly. There’s no arguing that Amy Elliott, for her gumption and Spartan disciplinary, is scary, although personally, not as scary if she turned out to be Diary Amy.

Of course, Nick, for all intents and purposes, is just all the right kind of wrong and screw-up that it compliments with his wife’s sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies. The beautiful part is that Flynn depicts these two characters as intellectual equals who are more in tune with their partner than even some healthy relationships. Ironically without each other, they wouldn’t be who they are.

Kind of sort of love, right. . .?

It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Ned Vizzini

Funny_Story_frontNed Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story hits home with many people suffering from Depression, suicide ideation, and the stigmatization of mental illness. It’s a relatable story and an eye-opener to the misinformed mass of people unbeknownst of the real, medically debilitating issues incurred through the disease. For Craig Gilner, he just wanted to get into the best school, go to the best college, get the best job, find the perfect wife, and have kids. Simple. In spite of its difficult subject, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is funny and poignant. It’s one of the more honest novels I’ve read on teenagers with mental illness.

Craig Gilner knows exactly what he wants from life: success. When he’s accepted into the Executive Pre-Professional High School, he’s beyond elated and can’t wait to start and begin on the path to a good life; his year of intense studying has paid off. At his new school, however, he’s struggling academically. The pressure to succeed overwhelms him so much that he can’t eat or sleep anymore. After a while, he decides he’s going to kill himself, which eventually leads him to checking himself into a psychiatric ward.  He’s then required to stay at the hospital for five days meeting an eclectic group of people. During his time there, Craig is able to confront the source of his Depression and Anxiety and discovers more than he expected.

Story is didactic and delightful for its plot structure. It forgoes chronology for the first half and instead plunges the reader in the middle of Craig’s hardship. Eventually the story resumes a linear order, but the story telling is truly one of the more interesting aspects; Vizzini’s treatment of the narrative ties to the novel’s strongest image, the brain map. The first half filled with flashbacks reverting back to the present is a pleasure to read with the symbols of the images bolstering the story’s meanings.

A tangible and sympathetic story, Vizzini’s novel is also kind of funny. There’s a mix of humor in the book peppered with hilarity and uncomfortable not-so-funny moments. Gilner’s suicide attempt is the last thing to joke about, the least funny bit of Story; yet, I can’t help but snicker when Gilner is calling the Suicide Hotline and is flooded with other callers, so he’s transferred to the hotline to pacify his anxiety until the Suicide Hotline is available. And it’s sort of funny when Gilner is conversing with the soldier voice in his head and has to explain with great care and difficulty that he’s not hearing voices—just this one soldier guy that’s him but isn’t him. Without the deadpan humor and eccentricities of the novel, Story would end up taking itself too seriously.

But Gilner is an austere protagonist. Reading about his struggles is like watching someone tunnel his way out of a prison with a teaspoon. He takes everything he does too seriously. Gilner’s view on life is simple and circumscribed, possibly causing what he sees as “tentacles.” When things are less stressful, more stabilized, he refers to them as “anchors.” We see Vizzini discussing emotional and difficult issues through powerful images and things the narrator Gilner identities with. These literary images are quite palpable and make me appreciate the novel and its characters more.

The other characters, albeit interesting, we never really know. This book is unquestionably about Gilner’s mental health and his recovery, so the other characters don’t receive the same amount of attention, thus, are not as fleshed out. What’s significant though is the commonality between these supporting characters that is antithetical to Gilner’s life. Most of them don’t have a support network, or they’re estranged from their family and friends. The severity of Gilner’s condition is offset by his propitious, loving environment of his family. While Gilner has experienced things that the majority of us may never be exposed to, he is still in a way sheltered from the worst.

I found Story scrupulous and almost methodical in its writing and language. Vizzini proportionately writes about the decline and recovery of Gilner’s mental health in an innocent, winsome voice that is easy to follow but exceptionally mature. What I’m mostly impressed with, as I’ve already praised repeatedly in this review and just have to gush about some more, is the images and symbolism deployed in the novel. Plot and characters are not the only pillars in this story. Without the use of the brain map, this story would be dangling—and a different cover.

And then there’s the conclusion of Story that cannot be summarized in one word or a sentence. It takes a page of constant, breathless prose to finish the novel, and it fills us with renewed purpose and perspective. It’s not the meaning of life, but it’s the thing we forget so easily. Somehow we go through the motions and forget that we are supposed to be living instead of being lead. It’s kind of funny how that happens.