The Weight of a Thousand Feathers (Mini Book Review) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

the weight of a thousand feathersSummary: Brian Conaghan’s The Weight of a Thousand Feathers is about Bobby Seed, a seventeen-year-old carer. Bobby’s mother has multiple sclerosis, and her illness dictates Bobby’s life. He adores his mother, so he doesn’t mind putting everything second to his mom’s needs, but it’s still somewhat of a relief to get away to his young carers’ support group. But Bobby knows that they’re living on borrowed time: MS is a slow, incurable illness, and he knows that there’s only one way it can end.

Note: This review has spoilers. I’ve tried to talk around them as much as possible, but the most remarkable aspects of The Weight of a Thousand Feathers are apparent only after reading the whole thing.

connor murphy spoilers

Review: Bobby’s relationship with his mother and their relationship with her illness take up the forefront of the novel. There are plotlines more traditional to a YA novel present, but they are all aggressively sidelined by the more pressing matters. At first, when I finished the novel, I was conflicted by the storylines that aren’t really resolved. I’m used to fiction tying up pretty neatly, so it is jarring that The Weight of a Thousand Feathers doesn’t. Upon reflection, though, it would’ve been a disservice to end it any other way because Bobby’s story is realistic in all the worst ways. He should have a regular adolescence, but he doesn’t because his mom needs him too much; likewise, this could be a standard contemporary young adult novel, but those elements have to get out of the way because Mrs. Seed supersedes them. The reader can see the story this would’ve been if Bobby’s mom weren’t sick, but The Weight of a Thousand Feathers isn’t that story.

This is not a fun, chill summer book. It’s pretty depressing, and there are some really difficult moral questions. Some scenes are incredibly upsetting, and extremely conflicting. One character in particular is the type of character readers are conditioned to like. He’s had a hard past. He’s our protagonist’s love interest. He’s a little bit of a bad boy, but so many love interests in fiction are bad boys that we forget that bad boys are actually, well, bad. So when I realized that, no, all the red flags that usually turn out to be just quirks are, in fact, red flags… I was pleasantly surprised.

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers is an intense book but very affecting and very well-written. It’s a very somber read with great characters, and while the main plot doesn’t have a lot of surprises (thanks a lot, spoilery cover flap!), Conahan does some interesting, atypical things with his B-plots that make this novel a memorable one.

A/⭐⭐⭐⭐


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Great Books with LGBTQ+ Characters

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I haven’t done a top ten in a while, so I figured it was time. I usually try to read more LGBTQ+ books during Pride Month, but since I got off to a slow start and didn’t post anything for basically the first half of the month, I figured I’d overcompensate with an extra-long list that includes both books that I’ve loved for years and some that I’ve just discovered recently.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

six of crowsGenre: YA Fantasy

Queer Representation: Of the main characters, two are bisexual and one is gay. There is one major m/m romance and one additional minor queer character. In the sequel series, there is a queer relationship between a bisexual woman and a trans man (note: he does not come out until near the end–to anyone, including himself– and therefore presents as female and uses she/her pronouns until then).

crooked kingdomBrief Review: Six of Crows has quickly become one of my all-time favorite books. It’s basically Ocean’s Eleven with actually amazing characters dumped into a uniquely inspired fantasy setting. There are few novels with a core cast of characters who complement each other as well as the Crows do. I spend half my life telling people to read this book. It’s only been a few months since I last read it and I’m already getting the itch to reread it again.


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

song of achillesGenre: Adult Mythology, Fantasy, Romance, Retellings

Queer Representation: This is a m/m romance with one bi character and one gay character.

Brief Review: I love Greek mythology, and The Song of Achilles is a great retelling. Madeline Miller’s writing is absolutely beautiful, and her characters are Greek heroes at their best: staggeringly powerful but simultaneously petty and laughably immature. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll immediately add Circe to your reading list (I seriously need to get on that).


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

gentleman's guideGenre: YA Fantasy, Romance, Bildungsroman, New Adult, Historical Fiction, Adventure, etc.

Queer Representation: The POV character is bi. The other two main characters are gay and ace, respectively.

the lady's guide to petticoats and piracyBrief Review: This book is a riot. It’s basically impossible to describe. I’ve never written “etc.” on a genre list before, but there’s no genre that Gentleman’s Guide doesn’t dip its toe in. This book is incredibly fast paced, and it gets increasingly more ridiculous as it goes on, but in such a way that it never feels too ridiculous. It has an adorable romance at its heart and has one of the best character arcs I’ve ever read. Very few characters make as much progress as believably as Monty does. He’s one of the most dynamic protagonists I’ve come across in recent years.


The Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

symptoms of being humanGenre: YA Contemporary

Queer Representation: The POV character is genderfluid.

Brief Review: This book is difficult to read at times because it doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of our often homophobic and heteronormative world, but it’s a beautiful, unflinching story about a teenager who just wants to live their life in a world that makes it much too difficult. The writing is great, and Riley is an amazing protagonist. It also gets extra points because most queer fiction is about gay men. Nonbinary and trans characters aren’t depicted nearly as often, and this is the best of the few I’ve read.


Rick Riordan’s Later Books

sword of summerGenre: JF, Mythology, Fantasy

Queer Representation: Riordan’s books have gotten increasingly more diverse. Starting with The Blood of Olympus, which confirms that Nico is gay, queer characters have slowly but steadily been populating Riordan’s worlds. Trials of Apollo gives us the openly bi Apollo (who is the POV character) and a second minor gay character; and Magnus’ love interest—who is a main character in their own right—in Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard is genderfluid.

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Brief Review: What’s left to say about Rick Riordan that hasn’t already been said? When it comes to mythology retellings, he’s number one (Madeline Miller is great, but she’s, like eighteen books behind). His books are full of adventure, sassy teens, and creative modernization; they have inspired a whole generation to get into reading. The Percy Jackson books are this generation’s Harry Potter, and as much as I love Harry Potter, I’m glad that its predecessor is as diverse as it is.


Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

simonGenre: YA Contemporary, Romance

Queer Representation: The main character and his love interest are gay. There are a handful of minor bisexual characters, though it’s worth noting that the female queer characters don’t come out officially until Leah on the Offbeat.

leah on the offbeatBrief Review: If you’re ever in the mood for nerdy cuteness, this is the book to turn to. It’s very sweet. The central romance is adorable, but Albertalli doesn’t abandon the strong platonic relationships to support it. The fact that its film adaptation, Love Simon, is basically the first mainstream gay movie makes Simon extra exciting.


The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare

red scrolls of magicGenre: YA Fantasy

Queer Representation: I considered listing The Mortal Instruments since it’s the original series, but I decided to go with this one for Pride Month since the proportion of LGBTQ+ characters is much higher (and they’re much more central). Most of the straight characters are cameos in The Red Scrolls of Magic. Honestly, the deeper you get into Cassandra Clare’s world the queerer it gets. You startlady midnight out with Alec (gay) and Magnus (bi) in City of Bones and eventually you end up with a handful more bisexual characters, a few lesbians, one trans woman, one asexual vampire, and a few more as-of-now-unconfirmed gay Shadowhunters.

Brief Review: The Shadowhunter books are just fun. The quality of the individual books fluctuates a little to support a universe that is getting to Marvel Cinematic Universe size (personally I think that The Infernal Devices trilogy and Queen of Air and Darkness are the weakest links), but the fact of the matter is that they’re all such fun, easy reads that I’ll keep reading them as long as Cassandra Clare keeps writing them. They’re compulsively readable, and it’s no surprise that they’ve spawned all sorts of adaptations.


The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

the seven husbands of evelyn hugoGenre: Adult Romance, Intergenerational, Historical Fiction

Queer Representation: There is a central f/f romance featuring (if I’m remembering correctly) one bisexual woman and one lesbian.

Brief Review: I saw everyone jabbering about this one online and ended up reading it despite very low expectations. I’m not usually a huge fan of intergenerational novels (I find that they tend to be pretty preachy and rose-colored), but this one is actually great. It’s not about proving how times have changed. It is about two fascinating, complex women coming together despite being from different generations. I’m very amused by the misleadingly hetero title. It’s like the opposite of queerbaiting, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who was surprised.


Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

jane unlimitedGenre: YA Fantasy, New Adult, Sci-Fi, Romance, Spy Thriller, etc.

Queer Representation: The protagonist is bisexual and, depending on the timeline, has romances with both male and female characters.

Brief Review: Hey, look! Another genre “etc.” This is a bizarrely weird book. It’s almost a choose-your-own-adventure. There are tons of alternate endings, and each one changes the genre of the novel… but they also all exist concurrently. It’s so weird but so cool.


The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding

summer of jordi perezGenre: YA Contemporary, Romance

Queer Representation: The main character and her girlfriend are both lesbians

Brief Review: This is one of those books that balances a really cute romance with lots of well-written and fully-developed platonic relationships. Sadly, a lot of romances let the platonic relationships slip. Happily, Jordi Perez isn’t one of those books! It also has a distinctly chill-summer vibe, which makes it a great summer read.


History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

history is all you left meGenre: YA Contemporary

Queer Representation: Pretty much everyone is gay. There may be one token straight guy, but I don’t remember.

Brief Review: No one does tragedy like Adam Silvera. I don’t usually read sad books, but his are just too good to miss. They’re absolutely heartbreaking but somehow also really romantic. I’ve liked all of his books, but History is All You Left Me is in its own league. I felt physically and emotionally exhausted after finishing it.


Ship It by Britta Lundin

Ship ItGenre: YA Contemporary, Fandom

Queer Representation: There is a central f/f romance

Brief Review: I love books about fandom, and this is a book about fandom. I love that books now dive unapologetically into the world of fandom nerdiness. In my opinion, the romance is probably the weakest part of the book, but it’s still nice to read about some cute, queer, geeky ladies. There will never be a time when I’m not up to read a novel about the ins and out of fandom and nerdiness, especially when the writer clearly knows that world as well as Lundin does.


Noteworthy and Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate

noteworthyGenre: YA Contemporary

Queer Representation: Noteworthy has a female bisexual POV character, a few gay secondary characters, and one secondary character who is implied to be asexual. Amongst its main cast, Seven Ways We Lie has a pansexual character and an asexual character (both male).seven ways we lie

Brief Review: Riley Redgate is a very underrated writer. Like some of the other books on this list, Redgate’s novels straddle the space between fluffy and significant. Noteworthy is, on the surface, a standard story about a girl disguising herself as a boy, but is more subtly about the pervasiveness of strict gender roles. Seven Ways We Lie tells the story of seven teenagers in the wake of a student/teacher romance scandal at their high school, and the way that Redgate weaves her seven characters/storylines together is nothing short of masterful.


Drama by Raina Telgemeier

dramaGenre: JF Contemporary, Graphic Novel

Queer Representation: There are a handful of gay main characters.

Brief Review: Raina Telegemeier is an incredibly popular graphic novel writer amongst young readers. Back when I worked at a library and worked a lot with young readers, I made a point of reading the authors that are popular amongst them (now, I’m trying to read more adult new releases). I’ve now read most of Telgemeier’s books, but I started with Drama because it’s about theatre and I love the theatre. It’s incredibly cute. Telegemeier is a great artist, and I absolutely love her illustrations. They’re instantly endearing and the rounded lines are so adorable. Reading Drama also made me realize just how few books targeted towards young readers have LGBTQ+ characters in them.


Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

carry onGenre: YA Fantasy, Romance, Meta

Queer Representation: There is an important m/m romance between one gay character and one character who could be either gay or bi, depending on the reader’s interpretation.

Brief Review: Carry On is basically Harry Potter with its tongue in its cheek (and more diversity). It’s a really fun experiment with meta-fiction because it depends so heavily on its readers’ knowledge of existing fantasy tropes. As a person who loves fantasy and loves tropes (and loves Rainbow Rowell; she’s one of my favorite writers), this combination is an absolute treat. The sequel, Wayward Son, is also very good and equally gay.


The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

darkest part of the forestGenre: YA Fantasy, Magical Realism

Queer Representation: One of the the duel leads is gay, as is one important secondary character.

Brief Review: There is nothing better than well-written fantasy. The Darkest Part of the Forest is a well-written fantasy. In a way, it’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Except the Sleeping Beauty isn’t a princess… it’s a dangerous faerie prince. This novel has one of the most inventive settings I’ve ever read. I’ve heard Black’s work described as “urban fantasy,” and that’s a pretty good description; this novel is about a community that seems normal, but actually lives in careful balance with malevolent faeries. The strong sibling bond at the heart of the novel is really well done, and Black ignores traditional gender roles so thoroughly that they seem passé.


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

middlesexGenre: Adult Contemporary, Bildungsroman

Queer Representation: The main character is intersex. Although identified congenitally as female and therefore raised as such, he eventually decides to present himself as male.

Brief Review: This is actually kind of a difficult book to read. It’s very dense and it covers a lot of time. That said, it’s very interesting and very well-written and is worth a read.


I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

i'll give you the sunGenre: YA Contemporary, Bildungsroman

Queer Representation: One of the two POV characters is gay.

Brief Review: This was my number one book back in 2017 (and I read some phenomenal books in 2017; it is definitely one of my best years for reading). I’ll Give You the Sun is one of the most gorgeously written books I’ve ever read; the writing style in Noah’s chapters in particular has a unique rhythm that’s great.


Radio Silence and Solitaire by Alice Oseman

radio silenceGenre: YA Contemporary

Queer Representation: Romance and sexuality are mostly irrelevant to Radio Silence, but there is one gay character, one bisexual character, and one demisexual character, all of whom are important. Solitaire has a gay couple who star in their own graphic novel spinoff.solitaire

Brief Review: Alice Oseman is insanely talented. I loved both the books—which are full of great characters and interesting themes that don’t pop up much in fiction—and then I read the author note and realized how young she was when she wrote and published her first novel. Oseman is now on my instant-read list, even though her books can still be relatively difficult to find (Update: I did finally find I Was Born for This, which has a trans man as a lead character, and Loveless, which is about an ace girl; IWBfT is easily as good as Solitaire and Radio Silence. Loveless is excellent, but personally I liked it a bit less).

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

ari and danteGenre: YA Contemporary, Bildungsroman

Queer Representation: Both MCs are queer.

Brief Review: I was initially hesitant to read this book because the title is pretty pretentious. Now that I’ve read it, I take back everything I thought to that effect, because it is a small story that feels very big and the title intentionally plays into that. It’s about two young men growing up and growing together, but it feels incredibly universal. Plus, the writing is beautiful.


The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

perksGenre: YA Contemporary, Bildungsroman

Queer Representation: One major character is gay.

Brief Review: I think this may be one of the first novels I read with a prominent LGBTQ+ character. Patrick’s sexuality is not necessarily a huge element in the novel (but, after all, this isn’t a list of books that are great because they’re queer; it’s a list of books that are great and also have LGBTQ+ representation). The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a brilliantly written novel with a very strong narrative voice and unforgettable characters. It also has some very deep, uncomfortable topics that makes for a great discussion.


The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

the rest of us just live hereGenre: YA Fantasy, Bildungsroman

Queer Representation: The MC is bisexual. One other male major character is also queer.

Brief Review: Patrick Ness is amazing. His writing is great and everything he writes is deeply inventive. The Rest of Us Just Live Here has one of the greatest premises of all time: it’s about the random nobodies who live in a universe where other, special teenagers are perpetually saving the world. It’s hilarious. The chosen ones and world-ending crises all occur hazily in the background while Ness’ protagonists deal with more pressing—and more mundane—issues like planning for college and falling in love. It’s great. You should read it for the chapter titles alone.


It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura

it's not like it's a secretGenre: YA Contemporary, Romance

Queer Representation: This is a f/f romance.

Brief Review: This is a cute, fluffy romance that uses its diversity to elevate it beyond its form. It doesn’t seem like a book that gets into anything particularly deep, so it’s surprisingly profound for what it is.


The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson

the past and other things that should stay buriedGenre: YA Magical Realism

Queer Representation: One of the two main characters is gay, and his boyfriend is trans.

Brief Review: There aren’t a lot of queer genre books. If you want LGBTQ+ characters, for the most part you’re going to find them in romances and dramas. Sometimes it’s nice to read something that’s just incidentally gay. This is a book about platonic friendship and coming to terms with the past. There is no reason for Dino to be gay. It doesn’t play into the plot at all, and absolutely nothing would change if his love interest were female. It’s just one aspect of Dino, and that’s way too rare. I’ve never read anything quite like The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried, but it’s a wild ride and a lot of fun.


Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

red white and royal blueGenre: New Adult Romance

Queer Representation: The POV character is bisexual. The second most important character is gay. There are several queer minor characters that cover a wide spectrum of identities.

Brief Review: While I didn’t adore Red, White, and Royal Blue as much as everyone else seems to, I certainly liked it. It’s a quick read, a little cheesy, and cheerfully romantic. It’s certainly a fun, quick read. If romances are your thing, you’ll probably like this one.

The Past and Other Things That should Stay Buried (Book Review) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

the past and other things that should stay buriedI’d never heard of The Past and Other Things that Should Stay Buried or its author Shaun David Hutchinson, and honestly, it probably would have stayed that way; the clunky title would’ve kept me from picking it up. I sent some family members to the library for me when I didn’t have time to go myself a few weeks ago, though, and they grabbed it for me. It’s surprisingly good and undeniably weird. It just goes to show you: you can’t tell how good something will be from the cover.

What’s it about?

Dino doesn’t know exactly what to think about the death of his former best friend, July. He and July were extremely close for most of their lives, but they had a falling out about a year before July’s sudden death and never made up. While Dino is preparing July’s body for burial—he works at his parents’ mortuary—July comes unexpectedly back to life. Well, sort of. She’s walking around and all, but she’s definitely not alive. To make things worse, July’s partial resurrection seems to have interrupted death for everyone all around the world.

What’d I think?

When I read the cover flap for The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried, which says “July is not quite alive and not quite dead,” I expected a ghost. I did not expect a zombie-like animated corpse that continues to decompose. July’s situation is really gross, but Hutchinson mines it for a lot of humor. Some of it is distinctly juvenile humor, but it mostly works. I did cringe at the ick factor a lot, though. This situation makes resurrection a lot less pretty. A lot of fiction lets people come back from the dead with no consequences. People come back as young and beautiful as ever, or they’re just pale and ethereal. July’s not-deadness is obviously wrong, which makes her eventual, permanent death inevitable. It forces Dino, July, and their readers to be very aware of the reality of the situation. There’s no chance of a miraculous, last second tied-up-in-a-bow happy ending, and as bleak as that sounds… it’s pretty cool.

dean what's dead should stay dead supernatural

Despite that, TPaOTTSSB is not a zombie book. At least, not primarily. It’s about friendship. Dino and July have a very real relationship. Their friendship is not idealized. They love each other, but they’re not always great for each other. They have their toxic moments, and over the course of the novel they manage to overcome their issues and clear the air. It’s an interesting concept, because Dino and July have to work on a friendship that already has a firm end date on it: July has died, and her current not-dead status is temporary. It makes for a conflicting and emotional storyline: the reader knows that a renewed friendship will only make July’s inevitable loss more painful, but it’s impossible not to hope for it anyway.

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Red, White, and Royal Blue (Book Review) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

red white and royal blueEveryone who reviews books online has been screaming about Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, so I figured that if it is even half as good as everyone says it is, it would be worth reading. It’s definitely cute, and it certainly kept me reading. That said, though it is probably currently in my top-10-books-read-in-2019, I don’t think it will  stay there for the next six months.

What’s it about?

Red, White, and Royal Blue takes place in an alternate universe that is very much like ours, but not entirely. There’s an entirely different British family, and though most of US history remains the same, the present has some notable differences. Specifically, the president is Ellen Claremont. President Claremont is up for reelection, and her son, the extremely popular and charismatic Alex Claremont-Diaz, is ready to springboard his own political career by helping her campaign. At least, he was until he gets sidelined by an embarrassing incident with HRH Prince Henry, whom he has deeply disliked since a brief encounter years ago. As damage control, the First Family and the royals decide to toss Henry and Alex together a few times and reframe their antagonistic relationship as friendship to the press. No one—and Alex least of all—expects that this will result in the two falling in love.

What’d I think?

Most reviews of Red, White, and Royal Blue that I’ve seen have been swept away in the romance, so it’s probably just me, but I didn’t love the central romance. It’s fine. It’s a little corny, and I’m not as convinced as anyone in the book that it’s a forever love, but whatever. It’s fine. Romances are always a little corny. In general, I tend to be unconvinced by the romantic relationships in stories that are intended primarily as romances (though I do love romantic subplots in other genres), and this is no exception. I rooted for Henry and Alex passively, but the potential of them breaking up or otherwise not ending up together didn’t bother me much. The build-up of their friendship is a lot of fun and I really rooted for them before they got together. After they hooked up, my interest in their relationship sagged.

I think it’s probably because the focus shifts from their personalities and their similar stations in life to their physical attraction. Red, White, and Royal Blue is New Adult (not YA, as I thought before reading it), so there’s a lot more sex in it than in the books I usually read, which is whatever, but it did start to get in the way of the actual emotional connection between the leads. I think McQuiston would have done better to lengthen the sections with physical distance between Alex and Henry (there was so much potential for this! Henry and Alex are almost always apart, but McQuiston sped through those sections to reunite them) because that’s when the strength of their pairing comes through the most. That’s when you see the love, not just the lust.

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Book Club: The Handmaid’s Tale

handmaid's taleDiscussion Starters for The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

  • The Handmaid’s Tale is, as we find out in the historical note, a transcription of recordings Offred made while fleeing Gilead. Throughout her account, Offred remarks directly upon the difficulties and limitations of telling her story. Is it important to consider Offred’s difficulty in compiling her testimony? To what degree is Offred a reliable narrator? What is Offred’s relationship to her own story? How much control does she have over the narrative? Why do you think Atwood included the details in the historical note about the difficulty in piecing together the recordings and slight discrepancies between Offred’s telling of her story and the facts uncovered by the scholars?
    • Offred occasionally admits that she has fabricated parts of her story, has the power to do so, and has an incomplete recollection of what happened. Do these admissions make you more or less likely to accept her story as true? Is it possible to give an entirely true account of something? Can a story be simultaneously true and untrue? Discuss Atwood’s use of quotation marks. Which scenes warrant them, and which do not? Does the presence or absence of correctly demarcated direct quotes affect your ability to trust what you’re being told? Consider the following quotes when answering:
      • “I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off. This isn’t a story I’m telling” (39).
      • “I’m too tired to go on with this story. I’m too tired to think about where I am. Here is a different story, a better one” (129).
      • “This is a reconstruction. All of it is a reconstruction. It’s a reconstruction now, in my head, as I lie flat on my single bed rehearsing what I should or shouldn’t have said, what I should or shouldn’t have done, how I should have played it. […] When I get out of here, if I’m ever able to set this down, in any form, even in the form of one voice to another, it will be a reconstruction then too, at yet another remove. It’s impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances, too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many shapes which can never be fully described, too many flavors, in the air or on the tongue, half-colors, too many” (134).
      • “I don’t want to be telling this story. I don’t have to tell it. I don’t have to tell anything, to myself or to anyone else. I could just sit here, peacefully. I could withdraw” (225).
      • “I made that up. It didn’t happen that way. Here is what happened. […] It didn’t happen that way either. I’m not sure how it happened; not exactly. All I can hope for is a reconstruction: the way love feels is always only approximate” (261-263).
      • “I wish this story were different. I wish it were more civilized. I wish it showed me in a better light, if not happier, then at least more active, less hesitant, less distracted by trivia. I wish it had more shape. I wish it were about love, or about sudden realizations important to one’s life, or even about sunsets, birds, rainstorms, or snow. […] I’m sorry there is so much pain in this story. I’m sorry it’s in fragments, like a body caught in crossfire or pulled apart by force. But there is nothing I can do to change it. I’ve tried to put some of the good things in as well. Flowers, for instance, because where would we be without them? Nevertheless it hurts me to tell it over, over again. Once was enough; wasn’t once enough for me at the time? But I keep on going with this sad and hungry and sordid, this limping and mutilated story, because after all I want you to hear it, as I will hear yours too if I ever get the chance […]. By telling you anything at all I’m at least believing in you, I believe you’re there. I believe you into being. Because I’m telling you this story I will your existence. I tell, therefore you are. So I will go on. So I will myself to go on. I am coming to a part that you will not like at all, because in it I did not behave well, but I will try nonetheless to leave nothing out. After all you’ve been through, you deserve whatever I have left, which is not much but includes the truth” (267-268).
      • “Here is what I’d like to tell. I’d like to tell a story about how Moira escaped, for good this time. […] I’d like her to end with something daring and spectacular, some outrage, something that would befit her. But as far as I know that didn’t happen. I don’t know how she ended, or even if she did, because I never saw her again” (250).
    • Professor Pieixoto goes into detail about the difficulty in authenticating Offred’s story. The tapes containing them were mixed up and therefore the order is “based on some guesswork and are to be regarded as approximate” and furthermore there were “difficulties posed by accent, obscure referents, and archaisms” (302). Why does Atwood go to such lengths to cast doubt on Offred’s story? Is the reader meant to believe her? How are these doubts tied into the larger theme of the novel? In what ways have we—and Offred and people living post-Gilead—been conditioned to disbelieve a woman’s account, even of her own trauma?
    • Why do you think that Atwood chose Offred for her protagonist rather than someone like Moira or the first Ofglen, who fight against the order? Why is it important to see Gilead through the eyes of an unhappy but compliant woman? What picture might we have gotten from, for instance, a member of the Underground Femaleroad or the Mayday organization? What about someone fully entrenched, like Serena Joy or Aunt Lydia? Consider Offred’s anonymity (we never even learn her real name) and her passive acceptance of both the sexism pre-Gilead and her role as a Handmaid. Keep in mind that Offred is from the transitional period. What might The Handmaid’s Tale have been like if its narrator had lived during the middle period, and was therefore someone who could not remember a life before Gilead?
  • Discuss the social structure of Gilead. Who has the power and why? How do those in power keep their power? Discuss each social role and the known duties of each. Who are the Commanders? The Wives? The Angels? The Guardians? The Marthas? The Aunts? The Eyes? The Handmaids? What qualifies a person to have one rank over another? Consider the power dynamics between each group.

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Villette (Book Review)

villetteCharlotte Brönte’s classic novel Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorites. I can’t remember the first time I read it, though I do remember walking in on my mom watching the movie when I was pretty young; I came in just in time to watch Jane walk up to the attic during that scene and I was terrified and fascinated. I’ve since read the novel probably a half-dozen times. I even wrote my final collegiate essay on it (and won some money with it!). I keep expecting my love of Jane Eyre to extend to the rest of the Brönte body of work: I read Emily’s Wuthering Heights (I don’t get the hype), tried Charlotte’s The Professor (it didn’t make much of an impression), and even Anne’s little-read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (which I did love; I don’t understand why that’s the one that’s dropped off the map). I didn’t know anything about Villette before reading it, but I’m always game to read something from one of my favorite writers.

It took me a while to get through Villette. It usually takes me about four days to read a novel, but Villette took me nearly two weeks. It’s not a bad book, but I struggled to get emotionally invested up front and then my interest came and went in waves for the rest of it. I’m glad I read Villette, but there’s definitely a reason Jane Eyre is the book Charlotte Brönte is remembered for.

What’s it about?

Villette follows the perpetually unhappy Lucy Snowe from childhood to adulthood as she watches life unfold for others around her. First at her godmother’s home and later at a French boarding school in Villette, Lucy observes the lives and flirtations of her fellow man and—as she grows older—becomes increasingly unhappy with her own lot in life.

What’d I think?

The weirdest thing about Villette is how superfluous Lucy is for most of it. She is the narrator, almost akin to Nick Carraway or Dr. Watson, except that she is more in focus. It’s like the narrative wants to focus on her, but can’t. The novel is split into three volumes. The first is largely about Ginevra Fanshawe, the second about Paulina Mary de Bassompierre, and the last about M. Paul Emanuel. Yet I would argue that, for the vast majority of the novel, Dr. John Graham Bretton is actually the main character. Parts one and two are almost entirely about Dr. John’s relationships with Ginevra and Paulina, respectively. He takes a step back for M. Paul’s section (obviously; M. Paul shares nothing with anyone), but he is the only character who occupies any prominent role for more than a single volume.

Lucy is little more than a sounding board for these characters. Ginevra, Paulette, and Graham confide in Lucy about their own lives, but this is never reciprocated. As a result Lucy is more a spectator to their lives than a participant in her own. M. Paul is ostensibly a love interest for Lucy, but even when their relationship is placed at the forefront of the novel, he looms above her. The courtship is always on his terms, and Lucy is basically a sexy lamp; any other young female could be easily swapped for her without changing the trajectory of the relationship in any significant way.

The supposed protagonist exists primarily to be a confidant for the secondary characters, even when the narrative has to bend over backwards to cast her in the role.

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My Whole Truth (Book Review) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

my whole truthWhat’s it about?

When 17-year-old Seelie is brutally assaulted, she has no choice but to fight back if she wants to live; she does, and leaves her attacker—the popular and well-connected Shane—dead. Afterwards, all Seelie wants is for everyone (except best friends Lyssa, Ashlyn, and Finn) to leave her alone so she can heal, even though the permanent damage done both to her body and her psyche make it impossible to forget what happened. But a terrible experience becomes even worse when Shane’s family sees to it that Seelie is charged with murder.

What’d I think?

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this one. I’d never heard of My Whole Truth or Mischa Thrace, and this isn’t my usual genre. Still, the blurb sounded interesting. Now that I’m done, I think I can say that My Whole Truth deserves more attention than it has gotten. I could not put it down. I basically only stopped reading when I had to go to work.

It’s terrifying and terrifyingly realistic. This is the sort of story that seems like it could/should never happen, but it is all too familiar in today’s world. It touches on—but does not delve too deeply into—issues of sexism, religious freedom/prejudice, abuse of power, drug use, and more. This makes for a somewhat painful read, though it is worth noting that My Whole Truth does not push as hard against its most difficult subjects as it could, which is honestly a relief because the subject matter is upsetting enough without being pushed to its limit. In any case, there are some implications that the reader can fill in if desired.

I do wish that Lyssa’s violent protectiveness had been addressed a bit more (I was shocked that Seelie’s lawyer never warned Lyssa that her violent proclivities might reflect badly on Seelie, because I was very worried that the persecution would make a big deal of it), but I was fine with the balance of everything else.

If there is one thing that My Whole Truth does better than anything else, it’s the plot twists. There are new revelations and unexpected developments throughout the novel, and they’re really well done and well spaed. While some of them are easily predictable, some of them hit me completely by surprise despite having been very well set up. It’s this barrage of stunning moments that kept me reading, because I’d tell myself, “Okay, I’ll just read until the fallout from this one settles” until it was 1:30 AM and I hadn’t gone to bed yet.

What’s the verdict?

Report card: A/⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

My Whole Truth is an exceptional book. I flew through it. The writing is tight, the characters are well-developed, and the plot is riveting. That said, it is not a cheerful book, and anyone triggered by assault might want to skip it (there’re more potential trigger warnings listed in the tags if you need them, but I didn’t want to put spoilers in the actual review).

 

99 Percent Mine (Book Review) ⭐

99 percent mineSally Thorne has been on my to-read list for a while. Her novel The Hating Game has gotten nothing but positive hype, and I’m unashamed of my proclivity for jumping on the hype wagon (I figure if that many people like something, it’s worth checking out). I ended up reading 99 Percent Mine first, not for any particular reason, and now I’m not sure if I’ll go back to The Hating Game. If I do, I’ll need to wait a while so that the stink of 99 Percent Mine has time to wash off.

What’s it about?

Tough girl Darcy is deeply in lust with her childhood friend Tom, who is “the perfect man.” There’s one problem: Tom belongs to Jamie, Darcy’s twin brother. Because Tom is Jamie’s best friend, Darcy has always had to keep him at arm’s length. But everything is poised to change when Tom and Darcy work together to flip Darcy’s late grandmother’s home.

What’d I think?

For a romance to work, it must achieve two things. First, it must get the audience to care about both romantic leads as individuals outside of their relationship. Second, it must convince the audience that the two individuals are better off together than apart. Basically, for me to enjoy a romance, I have to like the leads and like their relationship. It’s pretty simple, and in a novel dedicated to romance—aka when all other elements are there to support the romance—there’s no excuse for a 0/2. If you didn’t sense the direction this is going… 99 Percent Mine is a solid 0/2. I did not like either Darcy or Tom, and I did not like their relationship. 

Caution Angry Rant
Also spoilers. Kind of. If you’ve never read a romance before. 

Let’s start with Tom, the supposedly perfect man. Darcy tells us repeatedly that Tom is the best man in the world, that he’s perfect, that he puts all other men to shame, etc., etc. I honestly wish I’d kept a running tally of how many times Darcy tries to convince us of Tom’s greatness. I didn’t, so I’ll take a guess. There are 342 pages, so I’ll estimate… at least 200 times. Darcy is in love with Tom, so I guess I get it, but the problem is that the reader is apparently supposed to agree with Darcy about Tom and Tom is absolutely not the perfect man or anything close to it.

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