Wednesday, February 1, 2017

#CBR9 Review #03: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

This book is… heavy. Having seen the film a number of years ago, I obviously knew the main progression of the story, but having so much more added detail and insight into the mind of Eva made the gut-punch at the end all the more devastating (I have no idea how I could have forgotten it!).

We Need to Talk About Kevin is comprised of a series of letters that a woman named Eva is writing to her husband, some time after their son commit mass-murder at his high-school. So obviously, while the subject was pertinent at the time of writing the book (early 2000s), it continues to be so today, what with more and more tragedies occurring almost every day. The main focus of Eva’s letters follows the path of her life wherein she decided she wanted to be a mother, and her response to the event of having her son, as well as her relationship with him and the apparent personalities she saw in her son. Being from Eva’s perspective, we see her struggle with issues of guilt as she never really forms a strong attachment to her son, as well as some instances of perhaps shifting the blame elsewhere in that no one else quite noticed her son’s behaviors and true being except her. Other subjects that come to surface, albeit briefly, are the issues of the accessibility of weapons, as well as the prescribing of attachment disorders to children (which of course, can definitely influence people as they grow in life), though these are not truly the main focus of the novel. It is a deep psychological look at the aftermath of tragedy and trying to make some sort of sense of things, when perhaps maybe some of these incidents don’t entirely make sense at the end of the day.

In the first couple of chapters I had a bit of an uphill battle in getting used to the writing style presented by the author, and the voice of Eva came off as a bit pretentious at the beginning (which definitely comes into play as the whole thing goes on). In fact, about the first 2/3 of the novel are quite slowly paced, and it was a bit of a struggle for me to get into (I actually took a bit of a break about half way through and read something else in-between, as things seemed to be dragging a bit, but also being focused on such heavy subject matter I needed a quick breather). By the end, however, I was engrossed, and asking some of the same questions as Eva as she struggled with her parenting and wondering what to do both before and after her son’s act. It is an interesting look at how sometimes we may struggle to bond with and love people that we know we should, or how some people never see the true self of certain people.

Overall, despite some struggles at the beginning, We Need to Talk About Kevin was a great read. It was definitely quite intense at times, which made things a bit difficult to read, especially given the number of school shootings and tragedies in the news today. But ultimately, not quite like anything else I’ve read before, and sure to remain in my mind for quite a while.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]
-->

Monday, January 30, 2017

#CBR9 Review #02: Something Like Summer by Jay Bell

I had high hopes for this book, given the positive reviews I’d seen for it and the fact that, despite being a part of the LGBT+ “genre” the first line is “this is not a coming out story.” Now, I know I’ve talked about this subject before, and I know that these types of stories are important and can be very powerful, especially when speaking of individual’s real struggles and experiences, but man am I tired. Especially with the LGBT+ genre of movies: I’m drawn to these stories and they resonate with me because I myself identify as LGBT+, but 90% of this genre absolutely sucks (also why can’t LGBT+ romances be considered a part of the “regular” genres anyways? What, if a main character is gay or trans and deals with some of these issues but the book/film is simply filed under “romance” or “action” this is somehow misleading to the average audience? Nah). It’s all just struggles and pain and unhappiness and hyper sexuality, and I’m tired tired tired. I don't want to just accept what I'm given anymore. There has to be more. Being told that this was the first novel in a series that covers an “epic romance” I thought, maybe it will touch on some LGBT+ issues, but inevitably be like any other romance story, but unique to these two characters. Alas, I was very very disappointed, both with the story, how certain aspects are presented, and also the writing itself left a lot to be desired.

Something Like Summer is the first novel in Jay Bell’s “Something Like” series, which apparently is a collection of adjacent stories to this one, but from the perspectives of different characters (for example, the next novel covers most of the same timeframe as Something Like Summer, but from the position of the character Tim, who I will describe shortly, and later it focuses on a character named Jace, whose story begins before this one but then overlaps into the same timeline with the characters). The main character of focus is a teenager named Ben, who is openly gay in Texas in the late 90s. So of course, right off the bat, things are a little different, but not too too far removed in some senses. In any case, Ben forms a fascination with a new boy at school, named Tim. Tim is a popular, jock type, and after a seeming meet-cute, the two end up spending a lot of time together. And, well, eventually become an item. Kind of. It starts off mostly as sex, but ultimately they consider themselves boyfriends even though Tim refuses to admit that he is gay despite Ben pushing him to do so (he does reluctantly concede to the term bisexual), and Tim is still incredibly closeted with everyone around him. Hey, the teenage years are hard and they have issues, which ultimately lead to a breakup. We catch up with Ben a few years later, now in college and with a new boyfriend, Jace, who ends up being long-term. Of course, Tim somehow comes back in the picture, and we continue on over the years as Ben and Jace traverse their relationship, with Tim coming in and out at certain points. I won’t divulge too much, but there are obviously lingering feelings between Ben and Tim, and I know it’s hard to get over people if you don’t have full closure but… I don’t know. This didn’t seem as natural to me as it could have been. You know how love-triangles go, where somehow something happens so that the person in the middle doesn’t have to “choose” or somehow things work out in a way that just seems a little too laid out? In any case, who do you think Ben ends up with in the end?

A lot of the reviews I saw said that this book was incredibly emotion-inducing, and given how I tend to be an absolute emotional wreck and I figured I would at the very least be touched by some moments, but I just wasn’t at all. For a couple of reasons:

1)   The characters suck. I mean this to say that while some of the secondary characters were likable, they were not well-rounded at all and honestly seemed like one-note the whole time. As for the main characters, the only likeable one was JAce, but really, he seemed almost too perfect. Too kind, understanding, and forgiving. He was a bit older than Tim and Ben, therefore maybe making him more “wise” and “mature”, but it got to be a bit much at times. There wasn’t too much depth there. Ben and Tim, on the other hand: super unlikable and manipulative. Yet we are supposed to connect with them and feel for them somehow? There are ways to write unlikable characters that are still interesting or charismatic enough that you still kind of root for them, but this isn’t it. Ben, way too pushy and expecting too much of everyone; not understanding at all and also super fickle. He has a friend named Allison, and honestly never really seems to be there for her or to truly be her friend. She just shows herself when it’s convenient for Ben or the story. And then we have Tim, who I never understood what Ben saw in him besides a physical attraction. Ben tries to explain it later but there’s nothing there. Tim seems to take advantage of Ben’s giving nature and is also super pushy and crosses lines when he knows Ben is in a committed relationship. “But there’s another side to him”. Really? Is there? He paints and that means he’s artistique and deep? It’s not skeezy that when he’s in his 20s we see him dating a teenager? Nope, not feeling any of them.

2)   The writing was inconsistent, skipping over what should have been important conversations in dialogue (“and then we discussed this and this is how it went and how things ended up”. Um… what?), and also skipping ahead in time in order to cover ground in a way that didn’t seem entirely natural or like the previous section had really had it’s closure. There wasn’t enough for me to grab onto. Not even any quotes that I remember that stood out or resonated with me. It all seemed too matter-of-fact despite trying to take on more emotional and human topics such as love and identity. Something was lacking.

3)   Something that bothers me in a lot of LGBT+ literature and films is a preoccupation with sex. A lot of the time, it almost seems hyper-sexualized and/or fetishistic. This is a problem for me because it then often makes LGBT+ lives seem inherently NSFW or not appropriate for children, but hey guys, you know that there are LGBT+ kids, right? While sex is definitely a part of our lives as humans, that isn’t all there is. And in Something Like Summer, strong emotional connections are trying to be established, but it’s glossed over for more of a focus on the sexual interactions taking place, or that seems to the the main emphasis of the relationships in some ways (especially with Ben and Tim when they meet again later in life, during their college years). I don’t know, y’all, the whole thing seemed to put too much stock into the sexual relationships being the basis of something more. And this occurred even after both Tim and Ben described doing sexual things with other straight boys during their younger years, as though it was just what gay boys did, a part of their job to get people off. I don’t know, but everything together just left a bad taste in my mouth.

Ultimately, I did not like Something Like Summer. At all. As it began, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and kept going until the end. But I was supremely underwhelmed by everything, particularly how the ending played out. I mean, it was worth a shot to see if it could be a new series I might want to get into, but at the end of the day, I just can’t see myself sitting through any more. Especially not if I have to focus on Tim and his perspective in the next novel, considering how much I disliked his character and never understood what the big deal about him was. “But Lisa, maybe seeing things from his point of view will make you understand or like him more?” Mmm, I’m going to pass. There are so many more other books and series I would much rather try out. It didn’t take long to get through, though, so that’s a plus. Buuuut, that’s about it.

(Also I have been informed that the first book of this series is going to be made into a film, and upon finding images of the initial posters for his as I was looking for a photo of the book cover to add here, I must say it looks cheap and atrocious. The photo-shopping and editing is so bad that it looks almost like a porno. Or kind of like how Chuck Tingle’s book covers look! I know y’all know what I mean.)

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]
-->

Monday, January 9, 2017

#CBR9 Review #01: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A new year, and new books to read and review! Yaaay!

This book was a part of one of the CBR group discussions last year, or the year before, wasn’t it? I knew it sounded familiar but alas, had not gotten around to it until now. I’ll be honest I had no idea what Station Eleven was about when I started to read it, but I received it as a gift from a friend and I must say, she did a great job choosing something that she thought I would like! It looks like quite a few other people have enjoyed it, too. But let us dive in, shall we?

Station Eleven begins with the death of an actor on stage. From there, a deadly flu takes out the majority of the population of earth, and we are left viewing the lives of the survivors. Those we encounter, however, are all somehow connected to this public figure whose death preceded these events. While most zombie/illness outbreak movies and stories that I have seen tend to focus on the immediate downfall or just a few weeks after, Station Eleven deals with not just when everything started falling apart, but years later as people start to find their groove and develop a new, albeit smaller and simpler world. And when I say years, I mean years: 20 years later when there are children growing up who have never experienced the world before the flu. It begs the question of how lives are differently affected by the world having experienced it or not, or even simply knowing about it or not. 

Another difference which really set Station Eleven apart for me in terms of other outbreak/post-apocalyptic stories is that this one is not focused on the violence and technical hardship of the lives (though there are some aspects of that present), but it is a more emotional look at the individuals and how they have responded to the world now: those who want to find others for connection, who want to keep the arts going for their passions, those who want to rebuild, and those who want to control. Since years have passed, some of the violence and initial turmoil has died down and people are now really coming into how their lives will be for the time being. It’s an intimate look at how different lives are interconnected and how people all handle trauma, disaster, and even the general events of life so differently. 

There is a really effective balance between darkness and light in this book: a gentleness, but also an honesty of emotion? The only thing that I can really complain about is that a few of the characters almost seemed extraneous, or that they were going to play much bigger parts than they did? At least, in my mind that is what it felt like. In all honesty, even though I had no idea what this book was going to be about, I ended up enjoying it immensely. There is pain, but also hope, and I absolutely love that.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]
-->

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

#CBR8 Review #30: The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Do you ever read something and just know it was written by a man? Particularly when dealing with the subject of women? Of course, I do know Patrick Rothfuss is male, but I mean, sometimes you just get this feeling of deep knowing in your soul… more on this later. 

The Wise Man’s Fear is the second book in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle series, and I feel like the book was really split in half for me in terms of enjoyment: literally, I liked the first half just as I enjoyed the first book in the series, but the second half fell flat and started dragging.

Maybe my enjoyment of the first half was because I enjoy Kvothe’s adventures at university and searching for answers to the Chandrian mystery so much, which the first half of the book once again focuses on as an older Kvothe continues to tell the story of his life. As the tale continues, however, Kvothe leaves university in search of patronage from a powerful maer, and then comes to be involved in some work ridding the roads of bandits, falling into step with a seductive fae woman, and even learning the combat practices of another culture who try to keep their arts secret to others. Of course, Kvothe continues his trail of adoration and unrequited love of Denna throughout the novel as well.

The part where things really start getting slow and I began to not enjoy it happened once Kvothe is asked by the Maer to leave on a task of ridding an area of bandits. This takes some time and is confusing as to whether or not there is a bigger intention to the task. The period of time later in the book where Kvothe is coming to learn the secret arts and combat of the Ademic people also seems to drag and Kvothe appears to have not nearly enough patience for, which makes me wonder if he doesn’t think a little too highly of himself at times (though he does learn things quite quickly as I think I mentioned in my review of the first book, The Name of the Wind. He’s a bit of a special snowflake).

The point where I really started to get annoyed with how things were dragging on, (almost seemingly uselessly) was before Kvothe joined the Adem, and when he meets Felurian, a fae woman who drives men mad through seduction. This whole section of the book appears at this time to be solely to tell how Kvothe came to obtain a cloak made of shadow, which is great, but it goes on for such a long time seemingly just as a bit of content to fill some guys’ spank banks. This is where we get into how I could tell it was written by a man. You know that article going around that’s like, “If Women Wrote Men the Way Men Write Women”? It’s exactly like that. I swear, Rothfuss couldn’t go a single page without mentioning how “lithe” Felurian’s body was, how it was pressed against Kvothe’s, how “languid” she was, etc etc etc. I rolled my eyes more than once. And this goes on for a while, just Kvothe having his sexual awakening, which then continues on to later parts of the book where he can’t help but mention the curve of women’s bodies and breasts underneath their clothes, and all that. And hey, I’m not saying I am not down for some sexual content but I really felt like this added nothing, and just made things stretch out too much and not in an interesting fashion.

In any case, as I mentioned earlier, the first half of this book was super solid, just like the one before it, but the second half left me wanting and a little bit bored, to be totally honest. I definitely want to see what comes next, as Kvothe continues to tell the story of his life and we see implications of this during the time of the telling. But I hope it doesn’t fall into the typical “trilogy trap” as so often happens where the first book is fantastic, the second is decent, and the third just makes everything fall apart. Hoping for the best, y’all! 

Also this will definitely be my last CBR review for this year, so I hope everyone has had a good one, and I'll see you all again in the new year!

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]
-->

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

#CBR8 Review #27-29: Curse Workers Series 1-3 by Holly Black

I’m not sure if this is just going to be a trilogy or intended to be a longer series? In any case, I just finished reading the three books (so far!) in Holly Black’s Curse Workers young adult series (titled White Cat, Red Glove, and Black Heart). The premise is interesting, and draws the characters into a world of crime and corruption that I haven’t seen in exactly the same way in other YA books, though some of the typical tropes and characters definitely come out to play. In particular, there is some good commentary that could be related to “outing” people and the persecution of particular groups within society today, in the form of wanting to test everyone so that they can be clearly identified as “curse workers” within this world. I shall explain what this means henceforth:

Set in what is the current present day, White Cat begins with us coming to know a teenager named Cassel, who is the youngest in a family of curse workers: curse workers are a small subset of the population who have special abilities, that they are able to control through touching others with their hands. This is why in the book universe, everyone wears gloves all the time, to reduce the chance that someone will touch them and curse them. The curse workers’ abilities can come in the following forms:

- Luck workers: can influence the luck a person is about to have
- Emotion workers: can make individuals feel a particular way about a particular subject or person
- Memory workers: can affect the memory of others, making them forget certain things that have happened
- Dream workers: can make individuals have particular dreams as a way of communicating something to them, or make the individual sleepwalk
- Death workers: kill individuals just by touching them
- Transformation workers: can transform people and objects into different things or to simply look different, which is also the rarest curse ability

Of course, these abilities come with a price, and every time an individual curses someone, they will get what is called “blowback,” in a form related to whatever their curse was. For instance, death workers often experience the death and loss of a body part after killing someone, or memory workers will begin to lose their own memories after taking them from someone else.

Curse work, of course, is illegal in this world, which is why a lot of curse workers often turn to lives of crime, or their abilities come to be cultivated by large crime families. Curse-working families are basically like the mob in this world, and Cassel’s family has a few members working for one of the biggest crime families in the area, the Zacharovs. Because of this, Cassel has some to develop some interesting abilities in terms of conning people, etc etc.

So that is the background for curse-working, but what exactly are these stories about? Well, they are about how despite the fact that Cassel wants to go to school and live a normal life, he keeps getting sucked into the world of crime and curse work because of his family, and his past: a past that includes killing the daughter of the Zacharov family’s current patriarch, which his family conveniently covered up. But as Cassel begins to experience strange dreams and sleepwalking, he can’t help but wonder if someone is cursing him, and if his composure is going to start slipping. He also comes to realize that while he loves his family and has worked with them all his life, maybe they aren’t as trustworthy as he would like to believe. The story follows Cassel as he comes into his own abilities and tries to set a course for his own life, when everybody seems to want something from him. This includes the government wanting information from him and for him to work with them against the curse working families he’s known all his life, his own family wanting him to help them with dirty deeds, and the crime families cultivating his abilities.

The conspiracies and plots in these books end up being less-straightforward than a lot of YA books I’ve read, and there is a certain level of darkness to them that I liked. They are easy to read and I zipped through all three pretty quickly. I thoroughly enjoyed the conception of curse working, however, and how it may be seen as relating to certain social issues we have today in regards to minority groups.

There were a few things that kept me from totally loving the series, however. One is that I just could not understand Cassel’s loyalty to his family. I know that people always say that blood is thicker than water, but I’ve been told that it really goes “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” meaning that those relationships and families we create for ourselves are often stronger than those we feel obligated to keep? Of course this is not always the case, but I just really did not like many of the people in Cassel’s family, yet he kept on saving them and trying to do right by them no matter what, even if it put him in tricky situations. I understand loving your family, but I also understand accepting that sometimes, despite the familial relation, there is a lack of connection. I will also say that some of the younger characters’ teenage angst and issues sometimes got to me, but I’m just at that point where I don’t relate to that as much anymore. In particular, I did not fully understand Cassel’s relationships with certain girls, and did not really see any chemistry or reason for them to be together. But maybe that’s just me.

All in all, I think there is a solid YA series here. It wasn’t my favourite, but was definitely enjoyable at the end of the day. I might be interested in continuing on with it should more books come out, to be honest, but it did sort of wrap up in a decent way at the end of the last book, so there may not be any more? I just don’t know.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Thursday, October 27, 2016

#CBR8 Review #26: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This book was recommended to me by my cousin, and I am definitely feeling it and want to continue on with the series when I get a chance. It is an interesting way to begin a story, having a character recount their own story before something else is obviously going to occur in the present of the tale. Filled with new types of magic that I have not really experienced in other books, as well as a dark mystery that the protagonist wants to solve regarding his childhood, the story being told is quite engaging and exciting, and I am so curious as to how it is going to tie into the present characters and what is occurring at the time of the story telling.

The first book in what is called “The Kingkiller Chronicle,” The Name of the Wind begins the tale of Kvothe, a man who is working as an innkeeper in a small town that has recently experienced some strange happenings with large, spider-like creatures. Despite seeming to be a regular member of the town, Kvothe seems to know a lot more about the creatures than anyone else, and we soon come to learn that there is more to his story than meets the eye. This story of Kvothe’s life begins to unravel itself as he describes it to a scribe who has recently come to town, following rumors of Kvothe’s identity and presence, and almost the entire novel plays out as Kvothe recounts his early years to the chronicler. This features Kvothe’s childhood as a member of a travelling troupe, followed by some traumatic events and his eventual place at a university to learn different types of magic. The magic has some interesting rules and logic to it, which is described quite well in the book, and interested me greatly, as did the different legends that tie into Kvothe’s story and background.

The one thing that I noticed, however, is that Kvothe as a young man is a bit of a special snowflake in that he is extra smart and skilled, picks things up easier than everyone else, has special skills that come in handy at just the right moments, etc etc. Would we call him a Mary Sue? Perhaps, but besides being a little annoying and making me roll my eyes a couple of times, this doesn’t detract from the novel too much in the grand scheme of things.

By the end of the novel we know more about Kvothe’s life, but the story is not done yet, and there is the definite sense that more is going on than we are aware of (what with the giant spider thingies at the beginning and all). I also have the feeling that Kvothe’s apprentice, Bast, is going to come into play a lot more in future novels, and I can’t wait to see where this whole thing goes. I would definitely recommend it (so far!) to anyone who likes fantasy novels, particularly those set in older, middle-age-ish eras (though I am not 100% sure what time period exactly this is supposed to be taking place, not that it really matters).

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

#CBR8 Review #25: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

I’m not sure how I keep finding these books that result in me wanting to have long personal discussions but, alas, the Amazon recommendations have led me here yet again. Adam Silvera’s young adult book More Happy Than Not is one of those ones that wasn’t amazing, but I still enjoyed and wanted to get through quickly. While the story and progression may have been a touch clumsy at times, some of the universal themes of pain, memory, suppression, and relationships were brought forth well. Perhaps a little obvious at times in the language and dialogue, but I suppose that is sometimes to be expected in books targeted at younger audiences, right? Not always, but you can definitely see some of the messages and ideas being laid out very directly near the end of the novel.

But let’s get discussing what this novel is about, and then dive into some of the subjects it brought forth in my mind, shall we? What we begin with is a 16 year-old young man named Aaron, living in s pretty tight-knit community within the Bronx. The story takes place in what is basically the near future, as some pretty recent pop-culture references are made to be current (not sure how that will hold up for the novel with the passage of time), but slightly in the future as a new procedure known as Leteo has been created that people can undergo in order to suppress or “forget” some of their most painful memories. Of course, there is a process to this and not just anyone can walk in and get the procedure done, but Aaron knows someone who has had it done: one of his friends was made to forget his twin brother, who was killed in a not-uncommon act of violence for where they live.

Aaron’s most painful memory at this time, however, is that of finding his father after he commit suicide. Not long after this, Aaron attempted to kill himself as well, but survived. Aaron is not exactly the happiest person in the world, and he recognizes that while he has some friends he grew up with and spends a lot of time with, he is not really close to any of them or feels like he can talk to any of them. The one person he really opens up to is his girlfriend, Genevieve, an interesting artist who helped Aaron through some of his most difficult times when dealing with the death of his father. But when Genevieve goes away to an art retreat for a few weeks, Aaron feels himself falling into a loneliness that he begins to fill with a new friend, named Thomas, from a nearby community. The two come to share a close bond and consider each other best friends in no time (which at first I thought was a bit unrealistic but then I realized, you can really bond deeply with certain people quickly, and teenagers especially form and drop connections to friends at different speeds, and seeing how neither Thomas nor Aaron seemed to be really close to anyone, this makes sense that they would gravitate towards one another easily). Thomas is a bit of a wild-card in terms of not really knowing what he wants from life, but easily goes with the flow. But of course, seeing how close Aaron and Thomas are starts to put a little dent in Aaron and Genevieve’s relationship, and some of Aaron’s friends start to wonder about the true nature of Aaron and Thomas’ relationship. Does some nasty stuff happen? Absolutely. Does the Leteo procedure start to play a bigger role in the story than what it did in the beginning? Of course it does! But I won’t say how until… later… under a spoiler warning.

This brings me to my first point of discussion, which is the presentation of toxic masculinity in this novel. And honestly, let me just say that one of my pet peeves that makes me cringe every time I hear someone say it, is when a guy says something nice or compliments another male friend and follows this with, “No homo.” I mean… that’s just disappointing. No homo at all? Not even a little? 1% partially-skimmed homo (a phrase I have taken to using with my friends given my own bi-ness).
The community that Aaron lives in is not one that I have ever found myself, and so I am not entirely familiar with the way of life or how exactly the community views certain things, but you get a sense from this novel that they way these boys were raised, they are taught to be a particular breed of “man”. Anything else, even the simplest thing such as wanting to play as a female character in a video game is a sign of being “weak” or “a girl” or “gay”. And you know, there are people out there that say things like this! Even within this novel, Aaron as a child wanting to play with a doll is considered evidence that he is not straight, which I didn’t entirely like but there are indeed people who take these things as proof of a person’s sexuality, when really all that is is stereotyping.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, and am going to put a big old SPOILER WARNING for all that follows, as I continue to lay out exactly how this book plays out, as it will lead to some more topics of conversation:

When I said people start wondering about Aaron and Thomas’ relationship, what I mean is that they start to think that the two of them are involved romantically with one another. This is not the case, as the two are just friends, but Aaron does indeed have romantic feelings towards Thomas. In fact, he comes out as gay to Thomas, who is super supportive and still loves Aaron, but not in the way that Aaron would like him to. Not only do Aaron’s unreciprocated feelings start to create issues between the two friends, but it also creates havoc for Aaron and Genevieve. And this brings me to the second discussion topic, which is, how that pain of having feelings for someone who doesn’t feel the same way back is so universal, no matter the reason for the other person not loving you in the way you want. Maybe they have someone else, maybe their sexual orientation does not line up with liking you, or maybe there just isn’t attraction there. I’ve had this, and it sucks. But Aaron doesn’t deal with these feelings well, and in fact has convinced himself that Thomas is actually gay as well, but just hasn’t come out yet or perhaps just hasn’t discovered this part of himself. While it may have made for a really nice ending to have the two of them realize how much they love each other not just as friends but something more, it’s just not always realistic. Speaking as a small bi, I can tell you that no matter how much you may want someone to like girls, ultimately you can’t change who someone is. Sometimes things come out and people discover who they are once they meet that right person, but not always. And honestly, Thomas and Aaron’s friendship is so beautiful, and really what Aaron needed at that time, as it led to a new understanding and freeing of a different part of himself that had been under the surface. I mean, I am tired of LGBT+ stories being focused on the coming-out of a person and the struggles they may face (no matter how important these stories may be) and just want to read or see a few more that aren’t just bogged down with pain and suffering. Can LGBT+ characters not just be a part of a story that isn’t ABOUT their sexual or gender orientation? Are we not allowed to be happy even in fictional worlds? Because it feels like that sometimes. So while I would have squealed with happiness at the cuteness of Aaron and Thomas ending up together… This story had other ideas in mind, involving a lot more pain, but also not just copping out easily and letting things fall into place perfectly for everyone. Such is life? Hmm… I seem to be contradicting myself a little on what I want and like to see in these stories.

In any case, Aaron begins to wonder if he can undergo Leteo to make him “forget” that he is gay. To which I want to say, oh my poor boy, even in a world where heterosexuality is often the only “option” presented to young people, all it takes it that one person to touch your heart and make you start to uncover different parts of yourself. Sexuality is not set in stone, as the journey our lives take can lead us down so many different roads. And the novel does a great job of discussing the idea that sexual orientation is not really a choice (though perhaps people may choose how to act and what attractions to act on or not), but is a part of our nature. Just as we may suppress memories of trauma, they still influence and impact us underneath, and may even come up to the surface again: such is one of the main ideas in psychoanalytic psychology, after all! Adam Silver makes a huge point of addressing this issue of there not being anything wrong about who we are as people, as many still somehow believe that being gay or bi or trans is a “choice”. The writing is very deliberate in these areas (as I mentioned earlier, perhaps being a little too on-the-head with it?), but it is an important thing for young people to realize that who we are is no inherently wrong, even if we are not what many would consider “normal”. Though I do recognize and acknowledge those feelings that Aaron presents in perhaps wanting to forget his sexual orientation, and this would possibly make his life less painful, given his upbringing and where he lives (the next brief point of discussion). I mean, I sometimes even wonder if being straight wouldn’t make things easier for me, or if even just liking one gender wouldn’t make it easier to come out to certain people I know who don’t seem to entirely believe in bisexuality or totally understand it. But I didn’t get to choose this, and am learning to be totally okay with it in myself. Now I just have to work with the world around me and hope that I can carve out some happiness even if the world around me is slightly more perilous to maneuver in some areas given this facet of myself.

This leads us to the next subject of violence towards LGBT+ people, particularly in certain areas, cultures, and communities. I have been fortunate enough to not experience that much violence or hatred towards me in my life (oh, but I am also not entirely out yet, am I? Ah… that’s a kicker), with the exception of a couple of guys calling me a dyke as they drove by me on the street once, and the tiny little comments from family and friends that get under your skin and make you afraid to tell them about parts of yourself because you don’t know if they will truly understand or accept it 100%. But in other countries, cultures, and even communities, the physical and emotional violence that can take place is astounding and heartbreaking (that reminds me, if you haven’t seen “Gaycation”, it’s incredibly interesting and illuminating as to how different areas of the world treat and see LGBT+ people. It can be brutal and emotional for me at times, but it’s very good and touches on this subject in certain areas of the world).
And we see this violence towards LGBT+ people play out in Aaron’s neighborhood, as some of his friends react incredibly strongly just to the simple suspicions they have about Aaron and Thomas’ relationship. Aaron suffers an intense beating, and this then leads to a new twist in the story: as I mentioned, Aaron wanted to undergo a Leteo procedure in order to forget that he is gay, but he didn’t realize that he already had, and meeting Thomas had just brought this out of him once again. (See what I mean about how sometimes one certain person can lead to new personal learning?)

The memories that flood back to Aaron after he is severely beaten –almost to death—causing this undoing of the procedure in his brain are painful, but ultimately a part Aaron’s story and what led him here today. We see him growing up as a boy, and the comments made by his father and brother about being a real man. We see Aaron developing a crush on one of his friends as a child, who is now fighting against who Aaron is. We see Aaron in a relationship with a boy at school, only to face violence for even sitting next to him on an affectionate way on the train. We see the two of them being ripped apart by fear and circumstances that make them want to hide. We see Aaron coming out to his accepting mother, but the anger and violence that this results in in his father. We see Aaron coming home and finding his father dead, only to feel as though this is somehow his fault, in that his father didn’t want to live with a son like him. There are so many layers to not just the physical but emotional violence that you can experience in your life, that is laid out entirely with Aaron’s recovered memories. But despite the fact that these memories are newly uncovered and may illuminate certain things to Aaron about himself, he faces another setback from the changes caused in his brain: he now suffers from anterograde amnesia, wherein he struggles to form new memories. He has remembered his past, but cannot seem to remember his future or keep the present in check.

Basically, we have changed from Aaron wanting desperately to forget certain things about his life, to a new stage where all he wants to do is remember. This kid can’t catch a break and honestly, it gets to be a bit much where I just want him to be happy and for something good to happen to him (just as I was talking about the suffering of certain characters earlier). And this is all really a part of understanding memory and how our experiences and memories define who we are and who we may become. We may try to suppress and forget things, but they are a part of us no matter what and influence how we behave. And knowing about these memories may be helpful in truly understanding ourselves and why we are the way we are, no matter how painful it is. But being unable to make new memories is a struggle that stops us from moving forwards: how can we develop and change if we do not remember our experiences? It is an interesting idea, and I like the interplay of the forgetting versus remembering within this book.

END SPOILERS

Ultimately, More Happy Than Not is a good look at the experiences of a boy within a particular community that I do not have any experience with. Yet it touches on subjects I know I have discussed before and are close to me. Adam Silvera’s overall presentation of the novel is perhaps a little clunky at times and the messages are delivered in a very obvious and in-your-face manner, but they are still some very important topics being presented that I think a lot of young people can benefit from hearing (especially given that that is the target audience for the novel). It was not my favourite book, nor my favourite within what would be considered the LGBT+ genre, but it was still something I had no trouble finishing and engaged me the entire time while reading it. And for that, I give it 3/5 stars.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

#CBR8 Review #23-24: He Forgot to Say Goodbye and Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

One of my favourite books I read last year was Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s beautiful Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I just fell in love with the soft, intimate voice that Alire Sáenz had, and the story really touched some personal themes from my own life. Consequently, I decided to take a look at some more of his work, but this time in the realm of different subject matter (though I believe all would be considered within the young-adult genre).

The first, a novel called He Forgot to Say Goodbye, sad some of those delicate elements that I fell in love with in Alire Sáenz’s writing, but I had a little bit of trouble really connecting with the story. Told from the perspective of two young men (Ram and Jake) who are both from very different walks of life, dealing with different personal issues, but both contemplating the fact that their fathers were not present in their lives and how this fact may have shaped their lives and personalities in the end.

One of the young men, Ram, is from a middle-class Mexican background, with a delightful character to be found in both his mother and his aunt, dealing with issues surrounding his brother’s drug use. Ram has an interesting relationship with his best friend, Alejandra, who I was not sure who I ultimately felt about as a character: sometimes she felt too pushy with Ram, and at other times, she felt like she was strong and working with her own struggles as well. For some reason, however, I felt like her character became a bit too central, especially when she met Jake, and she became almost the entire object of his attention.

The other boy, Jake, is from a more affluent up bringing, struggling in his relationship with his mother and stepfather. Jake seems to be very conscious of the world around him, yet I can see how some people may not feel for him and his issues as I am reminded of a girl in one of my counseling classes who said she may struggle with working with people who seem so privileged. Yet, no matter a persons upbringing or how privileged they may be, this does not invalidate their experiences or mean their pain isn’t real. And honestly, I had a hard time liking Jake’s mother in the slightest and felt for him (though I wonder if his mother was fully developed and not just a caricature of a character in some ways?)

Truth be told, there was not a huge plot involved in this novel, as a lot of it was introspective and reflective on the parts of the two boys, though there was some movement in terms of their different personal relationships. One of the strongest aspects of the novel was how the two boys’ lives intermingled and their interactions with one another, so it was a shame that these interactions and their relationship was not given as much room to develop. I would have liked to have seen more of that, as I feel like it could have been very interesting and helped their characters develop more as well.  Ultimately, tone of this book, even if I got a little irritated by Jake often using his signature phrases repeatedly to the point where it was like, okay, I get it, he’s a teenager with signature terms, can we chill out a bit? Despite this, I found the novel easy to read, I just wanted there to be a bit more, and found I was not as drawn in by the characters as much I would have liked.

The second novel in this Benjamin Alire Sáenz double-header is entitled Last Night I Sang to the Monster, and focuses on a young boy named Zach in a rehabilitation facility, as he struggles with remembering how exactly he got there, and dealing with a lot of repressed memories and trauma. We also get to meet some of the other patients at the facility working through various issues (mostly addictions like Zach), such as Rafael, who is an older gentleman that is a roommate and close friend to Zach. We also get to meet Zach’s main therapist, Adam, who works with him both in group sessions and individually throughout the course of the novel.

Similarly to the other books I’ve read from Alire Sáenz, this novel has a very gentle way of being, that truly tries to capture the nature of human emotions and pain, and succeeds quite well in these areas. I just found there to be some issues with awkward phrasing and language used in trying to be poetic and discuss these emotions, which put me off a little. I also feel as though my background in studying counseling and therapy for the past few years came as both a positive force in appreciating some aspects of this book, while making me critical and skeptical of others. 

On the one hand, I think the examination of how different people deal with trauma and pain, and how some are willing and able to work through it while others aren’t is very well depicted: the place of dreams in a person’s mind and experience is also what some styles of therapy likes to focus on, so having Zach’s dreams be a part of it was definitely relevant. I also liked how there was the inclusion of some art therapy aspects (my specialization), though these parts weren’t fully developed and I know I personally would have led them or dealt with debriefing of pieces in a different manner. That being said, while I recognize that there are different styles of counseling and therapy (and some practitioners are comfortable with certain things while others aren’t) I couldn’t help but question some of the methods that were depicted or some of the things said by the professionals in this novel. That is, I would never do or say these things or even be comfortable thinking about it. But, maybe that’s me being nit-picky and letting my own levels of comfort and personal style get in the way of how I see things in these areas now.

My other conflict of thought was in the depiction of trauma, suppression of memories, and the process of remembering. I feel like this was done well and showed how sometimes we can just push things so far down that they tear us up inside without us even realizing, because we feel as though remembering and being aware of what happened will hurt us even more. The process of healing though, seemed a bit quick to me. Both Rafael and Zach have huge breakthroughs of remembering or being able to talk about things that happened to them, and while I know that being able to express these things can be very helpful, it almost came across as though as soon as they did this first step, it was smooth sailing to healing and coming to terms with things. But healing and recovery does not occur in a straight line, and awareness is just the first step of the work, the processing, and the moving forward: healing is more like a spiral, where sometimes this takes you forwards and sometimes backwards, though you are still moving and working on moving outwards. Therefore I was a little bit conflicted about the ending of this novel and how the lives and healing of certain characters played out. I was still, however, very appreciative of the depth of emotion displayed throughout the novel, and how pain and struggling was treated not as a weakness but as something that we as humans may face and have a hard time dealing with, yet we are still capable of working through and coming to the other side of in our own time and in our own ways. 


So, I guess in a way both He Forgot to Say Goodbye and Last Night I Sang to the Monster had their strong points, and had a really soft nature to how they approached different topics. But ultimately, there was a bit of a disconnect for me in some areas in each, which stopped me from absolutely loving either. Consequently, I would give both novels 3/5 stars.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

#CBR8 Review #22: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, vol. 1 “BFF” by Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare, and Natacha Bustos


Situated within the Marvel comics universe, comes a new young hero by the name of Lunella, or “Moon Girl”. And boy, is she cool in the nerdiest way possible. At least, I think so, despite the fact that all her classmates think she is a bit of a weirdo. Lunella is a young, genius inventor (not unlike Peter Parker in the “Amazing Spiderman”), but Lunella is terrified that one day she is going to become a mutant like the X-Men, which would make her a monster. You see, she carries a particular marker in her DNA that may later transform into a mutation, and she really really does not want that to happen. But how does she stop this? By harnessing the power from an ancient device that used to be owned by a group of Neanderthal-type creatures in the past. One of which owned a dinosaur that they called the Devil Dinosaur.

In any case, Lunella is on a mission to get this device and use it’s power to help herself stop from changing form, and this involves locating the “nightstone” as it’s called, and involving some travelling through time for the devil dinosaur and the “killer folk” who possessed the stone in the past. The Devil Dinosaur causes panic in the city, of course, yet it looks like he really just wants to help Lunella. The two form an unlikely bond as she continues with her goal, and the Hulk even gets entwined in things for a little bit (though he came across as a bit cocky in this? Maybe that’s just me, I haven't read a lot of comicbooks wherein the Hulk is featured).

All in all, Lunella’s adventure in this volume is a fun one that leaves you with a bit of a cliffhanger before the next installment of the story. It was enjoyable to see her relationship with the Devil Dinosaur develop, and she really is an adorable and spunky kid who you can totally get behind and support. She feels like nobody understands her, and you just want to root for her in her mission, though to be honest I’m also curious as to what her mutation would be should this occur. Also, the drawing and illustration by Natacha Bustos in this book is really fun and has a lot of expression to it, which I love! Maybe not the most serious or “dark and gritty” comic book you’ll find, but definitely something light and fun that a lot of younger readers will definitely enjoy. And I enjoyed it too, and want to see what happens next for this awesome young girl!

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]