Thursday, November 21, 2013

#CBR5 Review #52: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak is a young adult novel that deals with the aftermath of a young woman’s rape: a time wherein she feels she cannot tell anyone what happened, leading to a period of depression. I hate to think that these things happen to people who are so young and vulnerable, and yet I know that it does occur, and more often than not, the blame is placed on the wrong person, or the victim is too afraid to speak to someone who can help them. Laurie Halse Anderson portrays this issue in a serious manner, which I think is very important, yet she doesn’t allow for it to be so dark that there is no hope for redemption. While I could not possible know what rape victims feel, or even have an inkling as to how it may stay with them throughout their entire lives, I want to believe that there is still the possibility for happiness after such a trauma.

The protagonist of Speak is a 13 year-old young woman named Melinda, who attends a party at the end of the summer before she enters high school, only to be raped by an older student, Andy. Drunk and disoriented, Melinda calls the police, but does not know what to say to them. Because she alerted the police to the party (which led to some students losing their jobs), many are angry with Melinda, and she begins high school with no friends, essentially ostracized from all of her peers. And yet, no one thought to ask Melinda why she phoned the police, despite the fact that something was clearly wrong.

The only person who befriends Melinda at the beginning of the year is a new student named Heather, who later leaves Melinda for a different clique known as the “Marthas”. Throughout the year, Melinda becomes more and more recluse from her peers, her teachers, and her parents. Her grades slip, she begins skipping school, and even makes a hideout in an old janitor’s closet to act as a sanctuary away from class and away from her home life. The only class wherein Melinda thrives is art class, where she uses her project to focus on her thoughts and work out what really happened to her. Overall, however, Melinda is clearly exhibiting signs of depression, and begins to almost stop speaking entirely, which her parents and other authority figures see as her means of seeking attention.

Melinda’s dormancy in the social world begins to break, however, in the form of her lab partner working with her to find a voice in certain classes. Her old best friend, Rachel, also starts to date Melinda’s rapist, Andy, and Melinda starts to feel as though she needs to do something in order to help her friend from being hurt like she was, thereby choosing to confront Rachel who doesn’t want to believe what Melinda is saying about Andy. Everything comes to a head, however, as Andy gets wind of what Melinda has been saying about him, and corners her once again for a final attack that brings everything out into the open and allows for Melinda to gain some (albeit, somewhat violent) resolution.

It is difficult to watch Melinda spiral into a state of not speaking at all, especially considering how there are so many teachers, adults, and other students around her who should be able to see that something is wrong and going on with her, and yet they just don’t. Isn’t it an educator’s job to pay attention to their students and be able to notice negative changes in behaviour, or am I asking too much of them? My friend recently obtained her first teaching job with low-academic students, and within a week she was able to identify certain aspects of her students’ behaviour that may be indicative of other issues. And what about Melinda’s parents? Why assume that her lack of speaking is because she is seeking attention? Did they ever stop to think about why she may be wanting attention in the first place? The whole thing is very frustrating, and could be one aspect of many that accounts for the reluctance of victims to report the crimes against them.

What this novel succeeds at, however, is not even dipping into the idea of victim blaming, except for some slights by the rapist himself. Yes, Melinda went to a party, drank, and danced closely to a boy, but she was 13 and being guided by an older, stronger male: a male who was the one that chose to engage in sex with her, regardless of her state of mind or exclamations of, “No.” Other students may be angry with her for calling the cops on the party, but even before Andy is caught attacking Melinda, there are still those ideas floating around the school that Andy is the one who is “trouble” and one to stay away from, not the girls who are the “sluts” that are “asking for it.” That kind of mindset disgusts me, and I honestly cannot fathom why it is such a common thing today for people to blame the actions of the victim, rather than those of the attacker.

In general, Speak carries a dark tone with it, but still contains some of the typical teenage sentiments of angst, friendship, and petty social issues. Overall, I found it to be a very successful novel, and would recommend it to many, despite being aimed at a young adult demographic. Just because teenagers are young and can be silly at times, that doesn’t mean that they don’t deal with many of the same, serious issues that everyone else does, and I think we sometimes forget that.

[Be sure to check out the Cannonball Read group blog]
*Heeeey, full Cannonball! Twice my goal of 26, which would be more surprising if I hadn't read so many graphic novels this year.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

#CBR5 Review #51: Hellboy, vol. 4 – The Right Hand of Doom by Mike Mignola

I don’t really know why I’ve found myself liking Hellboy so much lately, but I really do enjoy him as a character a lot, as well as how Mike Mignola uses dark folklore tales as the basis of his short, episodic stories, just changing them slightly to suit the world of Hellboy. And there are always little explanations from Mignola as to where the stories came from, which I find to be incredibly interesting. Then again, I have a thing for supernatural lore being used in different works, if just in influence, or being reinvented in a new way, and The Right Hand of Doom definitely follows the pattern of Hellboy’s past volumes in that it plays little installments from his life involving different paranormal threats, which may or may not be connected to a bigger picture. I really enjoy it, but I know that some people aren’t into that kind of thing, just like how I like the somewhat less-detailed nature of Mignola’s drawings, which makes them almost seem more moody and dark (heeeeey, early expressionism, nice of you to drop by), while others enjoy more detail. Really I have been finding the Hellboy series to be one of those things that if you like it, you like it quite a lot, but if you don’t, then you are indifferent to it and just don’t see the appeal.

In any case, the tales involved in this 4th volume of Hellboy follow three different stages of his life, and pan out as follows:

Part 1: The Early Years
Pancakes – A two-page, almost joking story about Hellboy trying pancakes for the first time. Seemingly nonsensical, but the demons of Pandemonium appear unhappy that this has occurred for some reason.

The Nature of the Beast – Hellboy is called to England by a mysterious club to destroy a creature known as the St. Leonard Worm. His success in defeating it was not by his own hands, and yet lilies appear to grow from Hellboy’s battle blood, linking him to the folklore of the beast in the first place.

King Vold – Professor Bruttenholm sends Hellboy to help another professor friend to research the myth of a figure known as King Vold.

Part 2: The Middle Years
Heads – In this adaptation of an old Japanese folklore tale, Hellboy finds himself invited to stay at a rural Japanese home with what appears to be a group of other travelers, only to find them decapitated in the middle of the night. Or have these bodies chosen to be this way?

Goodbye, Mr. Tod – An other-worldly monster that wants to enter the physical plane of earth is using a medium known as the Amazing Mr. Tod. As per usual, Hellboy is called to diffuse the situation.

The Varcolac – While hunting a Romanian vampire countess, the giant vampiric creature known as the Varcolac is summoned on behalf of the Countess.

Part 3: The Right Hand of Doom
The Right Hand of Doom – The son of Professor Malcolm Frost meets with Hellboy, to discover an apparent reason as to why the Professor had tried to destroy Hellboy in the past. The cause appears to be something to do with Hellboy’s large, stone hand, and a sheet of ominous symbols that may suggest that it is prophesized to be a tool of destruction in the earth.

Box Full of Evil – Hellboy and Abe Sapien are sent to investigate a mysterious robbery at a castle that results in the release of a minor demon, Ualac. Ualac yearns for the crown of the Beast of the Apocalypse, but ultimately needs to fight Hellboy for this title.

At the end of the day, seeing as this is the 4th volume of the Hellboy series, I’m sure by now you know if you like the style of writing and the character enough to make you want to read it. It wasn’t my favourite of the series (so far) by any means, but I still enjoyed it. But as I said earlier, I like this kind of thing.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

#CBR5 Review #50: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I know a lot of yee fellow Cannonballers have already read and reviewed this book since it came out this summer, so I’ll try to keep it brief. For me, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was an exercise in reminiscence on the past, and the wonder of childhood. I was amazed at how quickly and unquestioningly the young boy of the story just accepted the strange things occurring around him. But when I think about it, children are like that, aren’t they? They are the most likely to believe in things that defy logic, or even yearn for more magical explanations for things that they may not understand. This brief novel truly captures this quality:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane begins with our nameless protagonist, returning to his hometown for a funeral, and finding himself back at the old farmhouse at the end of the lane where his childhood friend used to live. As he sits looking at the pond in the back of the farm, he recalls some strange events from when he was seven years old. It all began with the family car being stolen by a lodger living with the protagonist’s family, which is then used as the place of suicide for the lodger. Upon discovering this with his father, our protagonist meets a young girl, named Lettie, and her mother and grandmother. There is something peculiar but spectacular about these women, and they soon inform the young protagonist of some danger afoot in the area in relation to the recently deceased man. The lines between different worlds and realms are blurred, and figures cross between the two, threatening the stability and commonplace nature of the human world. The young boy of our story must learn to question that what he sees, and more than anything, to become brave in his world. But as he sits and remembers these events now that he is older in age, the question becomes whether or not this truly happened, and if it did, what it all means? And why is he remembering it now, after having forgotten these events for so many years? Do we need to forget these things from our childhood when we get older? Is it a mark of growing up when we can actually explain things and let go in order to move on with our lives? There are so many questions I now have that this book made me think about that I don't know if anyone can really answer for us all: we can just try to understand for ourselves.

There is an enchanting quality to this novel that is simply beautiful, but at the same time, I’m not really sure for whom it was written. The story is reminiscent of a tale that would be told to children, and perfectly suited to the sense of adventure of a young person. And yet there are things in it that I’m not sure a child would understand. What I do love, however, is how the different mythologies and worlds are worked in so seamlessly. It may be a short and sweet story, but The Ocean at the End of the Lane is both mysterious and cute, and very much enjoyable to read, even if just to know how it will all unravel and be explained in the end.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]