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.

 

 

 

 

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright PlacesJennifer Niven’s novel All the Bright Places will be the novel I recommend to anyone desperately in need of the feels. Its subject is not without its controversy and emotionally hard to process, but Places is beautiful and finds the extraordinary in everyday places (and being a Midwestern native who knows our hills are more like lumps—I should know.) It makes us reexamine our current criteria of living, if we’re really ‘awake’ or just going through the motions. Violet and Finch meet on the ledge of a bell tower for similar reasons with different purposes. The novel examines two young adults both caught up in their own struggles. While Finch is obsessed with death, Violet is just looking for a way out. Although this sounds like the worst pairing, both of them rediscover passion and excitement, but even love is not enough to keep someone going. Places is a reminder that amid loss and death, people somehow solider on.

Before I continue, this post contains content on mental illness and suicide. Be advised. Also: SPOILERS.

Theodore Finch spots Violet Markey on the ledge of a bell tower the same day he’s tempting to jump off of it himself. He ends up talking himself out of jumping and keeps Violet from doing the same. From there, everyone believes Violet is a hero for saving Freaky Finch: mercurial, manic, a new guy every week. Former cheerleader Violet is the opposite of him or at least she was before the accident that killed her older sister. Violet has been left stranded in what she calls ‘extenuating circumstances,’ and just wants to get the hell out of Indiana. During a class assignment about discovering new places in Indiana, Finch volunteers to be Violet’s partner, giving the chance for them to grow closer and fall in love. Behind Finch’s tenacity is more than just persistence but an ominous, pervasive feeling tearing Finch down. Finch is quickly unraveling and despite everyone knowing about it, no one intervenes, and it’s too late.

Places  delivers a straightforward story about a girl and boy meeting and quickly falling in love. The opening passage quickly sets up the story within the first several passages by introducing Theodore Finch and his disturbing, dry sense of humor on suicide, exemplified by his conveyance of the pros and cons of death via jumping off a building. The narration switches over to Violet Markey, who’s sensible and less enthusiastic about flinging herself off a building than her counterpart; however, she anchors the story whereas Theodore adds comedic relief to a bleak storyline, thus, creating this complimenting effect. The changing narrations help the boy/girl plot, but, admittedly, still contains several tropes from the Teen Romance genre, which explains why it’s so often compared to The Fault in Our Stars (yes) and Eleanor and Park (just no.)  An eccentric boy appears in a girl’s life and changes her complete outlook on things, but in the case of Places, it’s not as one-sided. Each of these characters imprints something on the other, bestowing us with beautiful metaphors and nuggets of wisdom perfect for young adult.

The characterization in this novel sharply imagines teens dealing with real, complex problems and doesn’t exploit characters with mental illness. The crazy, flirtatious banter between Finch and Violet is irresistible, especially in part because of Finch’s compulsive behavior to deviate from the mundane and lighten the mood. Finch’s story is very much about trying to find something to complete him than it is about finding the perfect way to die, though this might just be one of the many caveats of the story. He’s surprisingly hyper sensitive of what people think of him while being incredibly resilient to his peers’ castigation. When the manic episodes dominant his waking hours, his character begins shriveling. The reduction of this larger-than-life character painfully illustrates Finch losing his agency and the underbelly of mental illness, showing us how he departs gradually, boxing himself into smaller spaces until he’s gone. Niven carefully describes Finch and his descent. She distinguishes the two by showing off the intrepid Finch and when he’s lost control. The distinction reminds us of how mental illness is just a condition and doesn’t subsume a person’s identity.

Violet, although is burdened by her previous life and does everything to break away from the past, is characterized as a normal girl. With a character like Finch, it’s easy to overlook Violet. Her story appears minor but contains its own interesting problems. Like Finch, she’s in the public eye but with everyone’s attention trained on her. She is loved, so everyone panders to her circumstances because they know she’s still grieving. She even has supportive parents who are also grieving. She has so many people trying to be there for her but no one that’s capable of helping her transition. Her people are all super sensitive around her and trying to push her back to a place before the accident, but Violet starts to recognize that death isn’t the end but a trigger for change. When she suffers two devastating losses, the theme of the story is punctuated. She survives but is left behind and for someone to have to lose two people she loved in such a short amount of time, this leaves her with survivor’s guilt. Niven also thematically concentrates on the aftermath of loss and shows Violet piecing her life together and trying to make sense of Finch’s death. With Violet, her story isn’t about wanting to find an end but how to restart.

Places never lets go of the challenges of existing in the presence and valuing our lives. Finch, despite his fast-track spiral, was about the liveliest person because he lived each day like it was his last. And Violet wanted to save him—just like he did on top of that bell tower for her. Places does good work in breaking our hearts but doesn’t leave us broken. It reassembles all our parts leaving us with an important message: be there as much as you can. Love the people closest to you. Don’t live according to everyone else’s idea or for your family’s convenience. We’re born and then we die. Not to have lived even one moment is a waste.

Afterword:

Yes. I’m going to do the thing where I tell you things that you have heard on a bunch of public service announcements. If you feel suicidal, contact someone. I know. You don’t want to. You feel like a bother. No one can handle you. You’re too much. If you talk about it, then someone knows just how crazy you are. You’re worried what they’ll think afterwards or what they’ll do with you. Some might worry that person will take you home. Others might try and send you to a psychiatric facility. How do I know this? Three times I’ve tried (and obviously it didn’t stick) but there was someone to intervene—by sheer luck. I got lucky. Eventually I found out that I didn’t want to be lucky. I wanted to feel less lucky. I wanted to be in control.

There are resources available to you, and I get it: the last thing you want to do when you’re in this state is sparse through research or have to wonder about the cost of treatment, which is why reaching out before you reach critical is good. Talk. Cry. Talk. Ramble. I’m sure my SO would tell me my episodes were nonsensical and incoherent, but I felt better afterwards, and I’m very grateful that there’s a person in my life for that.

Tid Bit: Don’t wait fucking ten years to seek help like I did. We are complex creatures who need to converse awkwardly, sometimes in between sobs or through clenched teeth to find our doughy parts again. It’s better than feeling mean and hard.

So. There’s my public service announcement.

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.

 

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.