A panel from Chasing Shadows; art by Craig Phillips

Tuesday Reviews Day: Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi

I’m ahead of the game! This has never happened before but I’m trying to keep it up. This review is actually for a novel I started before Christmas, so I’m three books past this already! Whew.

This is one of the first graphic novels I’ve read in a long time, and it was so fun. I love the mixture of prose and images and what it says about the novel. More about that later just to avoid any possible spoilers.

Chasing Shadows also fits into my No-SWCM Reading Challenge, and it made me realize I’m probably not doing this challenge right. Yeah, I’ve cut out all the SWCM authors from my reading list, but I’m still reading predominantly white authors, even if they are female. Avasthi, of course, is not white, but I realize now that I need to broaden my horizons even more. I’ve gotten some really great recommendations for works by PoC, but if you have one you’re dying to tell me about, preach its gospel in the comments!

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Savitri, her boyfriend Corey, and his twin sister Holly are the closest friends can get. They do everything together. When they’re not in school, they’re cutting new paths along the rooftops of Chicago, taming the city and making it their own.

After an afternoon freerunning session, the twins become the target of a hooded gunman, who kills Corey and leaves Holly in a coma.

Savitri and Holly are left to pick up the pieces and deal with their loss—and their survivor’s guilt—in their own ways. But when Holly wakes from her coma, she’s not the same person, and she’s eager to get revenge on the gunman. Sav struggles with the loss of her boyfriend, the slow fade of her best friend, and whether it’s possible to hold on too tight—and for too long.

A panel from Chasing Shadows; art by Craig Phillips

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How I found it: Book Riot YA box #03
Genre: Young adult; contemporary realism; graphic novel
Does it pass the Bechdel test? Yes
Is it a standalone? Yes
So what worked? I like the complexity of the girls’ friendship. It isn’t just the tragedy that comes between them; the difference between their cultures cause issues that Holly seems to be blind to. I like the implications that has for their relationship, the subtle addressing of white privilege and how that can affect interracial friendships in sometimes surprising ways.

I loved the graphic portions of the novel and, as I mentioned before, their symbolism. The appearance of images coincides with and really signals Holly’s descent into madness as she struggles to parse this new reality without her twin.

And of course, I also like the pull-no-punches way the novel deals with violence and how it ripples out and affects so many people. It treats the grieving process and mental illness carefully but truthfully; people grieve in different ways and on different timelines, and none of them are wrong. And mental illness can manifest in startling and unexpected ways, but it’s important to try to recognize the signs in your loved ones and be sure they’re taking care of themselves. Sav thinks she’s helping by withdrawing when Holly pushes her away, when the reality is that Sav should have done anything but. Of course, every situation is not the same, every response is not the right one, and the novel does a great job of showing that.
What didn’t work? It seemed strange at times that the parents of any of the children were not more visible, more involved. Josh’s mom in particular seems either willfully or woefully ignorant of what’s going on with her son. Granted, the teens are all seniors in high school who can obviously drive themselves and (generally speaking) conduct themselves responsibly, and granted, this does touch on the book’s theme of dealing with grief. Many people, I’m sure, do withdraw from their families and their other children when facing the loss of a child. But all the parents were strangely absent for the majority of the story, and that struck me as slightly odd, especially for Savitri, who seems to have a strong relationship with her mom that really wasn’t displayed.

Overall: It’s a very emotionally dense read, so it took me longer to get through this than I anticipated. I occasionally had to take a step back from it, but that’s not a critique in the slightest. I loved the way it drew me in and then tore me apart. I got so invested in the characters I found myself taking things personally, even after I started disliking some of them and the way they handled things. I liked that it wasn’t some happy-go-lucky BS that wraps up with rainbows and flowers as if nothing bad ever happened. And of course, I’m a sucker for symbolism, especially when extended through a whole work like this, so the graphic element and what it meant for the story really amped up my enjoyment of it. Very, very effective.

This book is heavy. I’d assign it trigger warnings for violence and mental illness at the very least, because I want you to go into this book fully aware of what you’re getting into. But I want you to read this, because what this book has to say about life, love, and loss is utterly critical.

‘Tis the Season…

…to be sick, apparently. I even had a book review post outlined and ready to post, but the plague descended on our house like an unwanted fruitcake (that’s probably redundant), and I’ve only just started feeling back to 100% in the last few days.

I’ll do my best to get back on schedule. At least I’ve got that review lined up! Right now I’m reading Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi. So far it’s an excellent read, but it’s also really emotionally heavy, especially on the heels of the last book I read, which was a light and airy teen romance. Not my usual style, I know, but I’m really glad I read it. That’s the book featured in my upcoming review, which will hopefully go live tonight, so you’ll hear more about it later.

In the meantime, we have managed to decorate the house for Christmas. Despite feeling like a pile of garbage, I was still able to get the tree up.

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This year, some friends gave us some great decorations, including an artificial tree. I put that one upstairs since I have room for two trees now (you have no idea how happy this makes me; I’m a huge nerd for Christmas).

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And we actually got to decorate the porch! Ugh, this is the best Christmas ever, already. I love Christmas. Yes, I know I still have pumpkins out. But they’re so cute! Maybe I’ll put little bows on them. And no, I don’t leave my poinsettia outside. It was only there for the picture.

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At any rate, regular content should resume soon, now that I don’t feel the heavy cloud of death and head colds hovering over me.

(Mladen Antonov, AFP/Getty Images)

A Long Day Without You, My Friends

I’m sure none of you are strangers to the news of what happened last week in Charleston, SC.

(New Yorker)

The New Yorker’s memorial cover art. (New Yorker)

What you may not know, I’m honestly not sure if I’ve mentioned this on my blog before, is that I’m from South Carolina. I’m not from Charleston, but it’s a city that is near and dear to my heart, a city that I know quite well. I love it. I love its streets that flood in the rain, its markets that bustle with artisans and locals and tourists alike. I love its people. I love the way the trees hang over the roads and I love the sound of horses pulling carriages through the city. It is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. It is the only place I would pack up and move to with no hesitation whatsoever.

Last week’s act of terrorism — because we need to be honest with ourselves, that’s what this was — devastated our state. And to be honest, I’m still not quite sure how to even articulate my emotions. I’ve erased and rewritten these paragraphs several times already, even thought about not posting at all. Because what words do I have that haven’t been made empty from the repeating?

(Dan Xeller)

A man holds a sweetgrass rose. Woven sweetgrass is one of the oldest African arts in the country, and many in Charleston and the Lowcountry still practice it. (Dan Xeller)

But that, I have decided, is not the point.

The point is that as a white person, as a white feminist, I cannot sit idly by and allow moments like these to pass unaddressed, unresolved, into the pages of our history books. Yesterday I finally found the words for a Facebook post that was probably a bit too long for the medium, but I think it fits well here:

I’ve got a few more things to say about the Charleston shooting, things that I think, as a feminist, and specifically a white feminist, I really need to say.

First of all, the Confederate flag needs to go. I am not going to argue this point or attempt to justify my reasoning because, quite truthfully, I feel if this needs to be explained to you, you are part of the problem. I do not think my opinion on this has more weight because I am white than it would if I were not; I do think that as a white person, my silence on this matter would be tantamount to acceptance, and I refuse to allow people to think I condone or promote the things this flag represents. If you would like to argue this point, here are my real feelings: The battle flag that we and other states fly, that hang from trucks and are printed on shirts, is no different to me than the Nazi swastika, which was a symbol of good fortune that was taken and perverted into something disgusting and evil, a symbol of hatred and violence. I’m sure there are people alive with ancestors who were Nazi soldiers, just like I’m sure you maybe have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. But I will assume what type of person you are when you fly that, just like I will judge the hell out of a man wearing jack boots.

Second, it has been reported that Roof told his victims he “had to do this, because you rape our women” and assorted other ridiculous assertions. Let me make this clear:

We are not YOUR women. We are not HIS women. We are our own women, and we will speak for ourselves.

And finally, this was not about religion. Stop undermining the real issue here by insinuating that’s what this was about. This was about the culmination of years of hatred and poison poured into a man’s head by people who told him he was owed something, who told him he deserved sex and success and whatever else simply because he had white skin and male genitals, who told him that those things were being taken from him by people who were not as wonderful as he is. This was about racism, hatred, entitlement, and white privilege. And until we as white people recognize that privilege and start teaching ourselves and our children better, as Dr Seuss says, unless someone like me cares a whole awful lot, it’s not going to get better. It’s not.

I’m not doing this to argue. I’m doing this because I cannot stay silent about these issues and expect them to simply go away.

(Mladen Antonov, AFP/Getty Images)

Protesters in Columbia, SC call for the removal of the Confederate flag. (Mladen Antonov, AFP/Getty Images)

This week has been hard. But hopefully we open our eyes and move forward together into a future with real freedom, real equality, and real hope. I think we’re all ready for that.

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Finding my way back … to myself

People always talk about finding themselves and to be honest, it was something I thought I’d never experience. But you know how a few months ago, I just disappeared, and I told you I’d explain it later? Well, here we are.

I have never really been someone who stood out. I’ve just been myself, mostly quiet when surrounded by strangers yet annoyingly extroverted and shameless when I’m with friends. In high school I had my punk rock phase, my goth phase, my preppy phase, and then my “who really gives a crap about any of this” phase. (I fluctuated between all of these, but the last one was basically my default setting. It was always running in the background.) My best friends were mostly older than me, I hated everything (now I guess you’d have called my high school self a hipster), and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

I still don’t.

And the honest reason for that is I just generally do what people expect me to. I made good grades because my teachers expected me to based on (most of) my older siblings. I went to a local university because I thought I was supposed to. (I do freaking love my alma mater though. I am super proud of that school.) I took all the classes I was told to take, pursued a degree everyone told me I’d like (I did enjoy it, and in some alternate reality I probably did stick with that path). I look back sometimes and wonder what I’d have done differently if I had done all the things I’d really wanted to do. Some of those things were incredibly stupid ideas, and sometimes I think I’m glad I didn’t do them. But what if I had? What stories would I be able to tell my eventual kids?

Did I ever tell you about that time in high school, when I …

Did I ever tell you about when I was in college …

But I don’t have any crazy stories to tell my kids. I never really did anything bad or unexpected or scary. That’s not an exaggeration, not me pretending to be the perfect kid. I wasn’t. But probably the worst things I ever did were miss curfew by an hour or slam my door during a one-sided screaming match with my grandparents. Nothing extraordinary. Nothing awe-inspiring.

And now I realize I’ve carried that into adulthood, and it’s sadder now even than it was then. I don’t take risks, I don’t really do anything that scares me or excites me or inspires someone. I think too much about: well, what will people think? What will people say about me? What if they think I’m a failure or a fraud or just stupid?

So in January I decided that this year, as my New Year’s Resolution, I was going to do something a little different. Instead of resolving to lose weight, hit the gym more often, cut back on sweets and soda, I was going to start living for myself. (And Kris of course. We’re a team, obviously.) I was going to stop bending to what I thought everyone wanted and expected for me, living the life and being the person that I perceived I should be. Because the reality is, no one was putting these weird pressures on me but myself. My family wouldn’t love me less and my friends might give me side-eye but they’d support me no matter what, and anyone who wouldn’t doesn’t deserve front-row seats to my life, anyway.

It was a good goal, I thought. One that would require real changes and serious effort on my part. Step 1: Do something scary that I’ve always wanted to do.

Ink by Matt Skin

Ink by Matt Skin

So I got a tattoo. I love tattoos. I only had one, and it’s relatively small and no one really notices it, even though it’s not hidden at all. But I’d wanted this design for a long time, I knew I would be happy with it, but I kept getting held back. It’s too big. I’ll get bored with it. Everyone will hate it. What if I don’t find the right artist, and it turns out poorly? I ran through every excuse in the book, even while I researched local artists and shops, settled on the perfect guy, and doodled hot air balloons on every page of every notebook I wrote in for over a year. Finally, just before Christmas of last year, I printed out the painting I liked, took it to Matt Skin and asked if he could do it. Obviously, he could.

It took awhile to do (of course) and after the first sitting I went into panic mode. I completely shut down and freaked out like I haven’t in a long time. After a few weeks I realized my freakout was normal, and reminded myself how long I’d wanted the tattoo. I got some predictable responses, but by the time they arrived I had discovered a part of myself that I thought was lost: the part that cared more about what I wanted and what I liked than about what other people wanted for me. So when I heard the first “but your legs were so beautiful” comment from a family member, I told her I hadn’t gotten in a car wreck, I’d just gotten one of them painted, and if she wanted to see a plain leg she could look at my left one instead. Not even a month before that happened, I’d have broken down crying and left.

In the months since I got the tattoo complete, I’ve been making strides toward my goal that are visible even to myself. I’m not there yet, but I think I’m doing well. So it was time for Step 2: Make big decisions based on what’s best for myself, not on what I tell myself is expected of me.

So I put in my two weeks at my job. I know some of my coworkers might read this, but that’s okay. I don’t really have much to say on this front, just that it became startlingly clear that it was time to move on, and work-related stress was wearing me thin and disrupting my relationships and my personal life. I do think that my anxiety disorder has worsened in recent months, but it’s a chicken-or-egg question at this point. It’s scary for me, because I don’t have any prospects. But I know that I’ve made the best decision for myself, and if it upsets someone’s apple cart, then that’s their responsibility, not mine.

I know for a lot of people, these things all sound like common sense. And for high-school-me and even college-me, it would have been common sense, too. But somewhere along the way I really lost myself in the sea of projected and perceived expectations, I stopped pursuing things that made me happy, and I became someone I wasn’t really proud to be.

But the old me—the one who didn’t care about being called a bitch as long as she was with people she liked, who wore clothes she thought were cool even if no one else agreed, and read manga tucked into her history book as if her teacher didn’t notice—the old me I think would be proud of this new me, this me that I always really wanted to be anyway.

Aside

Patience

I know it’s been an abnormally long time since I’ve posted, and I’m sorry about that. But I’m sure you’ve seen the hints and maybe outright omissions here and there that I struggle with anxiety disorder and probably depression. I’m not on anything for it, though that isn’t a mark of pride for me or an attempt to demonize people who are. I’ve been really struggling lately and have not felt at all like myself for at least a week, perhaps longer. The mere thought of writing left me drained and when I tried to anyway, nothing came together how I wanted and it all seemed pointless.

I am blessed with an amazing support system of family and friends, and while I’m sure some of both groups will see this and think, “But I had no idea,” or “Well, she didn’t tell me,” I hope they don’t also think that’s because I don’t trust or love them. I confide in as few people as possible during the difficult times because spreading a wide net does not help me. Maybe one day soon I’ll be able to write a longer post about my struggles recently, and I’m sure by then they’ll seem silly and we’ll all have a laugh over how overblown I made the whole thing. But right now I am healing and I am doing much better. Taking one day at a time. I hope you’ll understand and perhaps look forward to a blog post soon that I’ve been very excited to write … you might want to go rewatch the series finale of Breaking Bad. No more hints though.