Like last week’s book, this week’s feature touches on more than a few of my interests. Part history, part science fiction, part steampunk and part futurism, Daniel H. Wilson‘s latest novel is a centuries-spanning tapestry that is almost unbelievably moving. And while it wasn’t perfect, it was entirely worth the read.
If you didn’t already know, my husband and I live in the Southern United States. It’s beautiful; lots of trees, a variety of landscapes (mountains, beach, etc., all within day-trip distance), a staggering amount of wildlife and next to no light pollution. Plus: it’s hot. Almost all the time. Except for the last month or two. It’s been unseasonably cold around here, and we even had a few snow flurries last week. So it seemed like the perfect time to go back a bit to one of my end-of-summer reads that never made it to the review page.
Let’s hope it knocks the chill off.
Today’s Friday Reads are all about class-assigned readings. I’ve built leisure time into my schedule each day, but thanks to doing nothing but reading for school, I’ve spent most of my leisure time racking up hours on that new No Man’s Sky update. (That update is … wow.) Interestingly enough, my readings — for African-American Literature, especially — really seem to line up with some relevance to current issues. But isn’t that always the way?
This week marked my first week of Fall term in my graduate program. From here on out, it’s likely that Friday Reads will deal almost entirely with assigned reading. I’m hoping I’ll get to sneak a few leisure reads into my schedule here and there, but between course assignments and that new No Man’s Sky update I still need to check out for myself, I may not get much leisure reading done before Christmas break.
Grad school classes begin on Monday, and it appears no one has informed my anxiety disorder. So far I’m pretty calm about it, maybe even excited. I spent some time this week reviewing my syllabus for Literary Theory, and I’m beyond stoked for this class. The entire month of November will be spent on Feminist Theory and Gender/Queer Theory, which I am considering an early holiday gift from my professor. He also informed us that skimming most of our assigned readings is acceptable and expected, so we’re friends now. It’s fine.
I haven’t heard anything from my other professor yet, but I’m not worried; class doesn’t actually begin until Monday so there’s still time.
I really wanted to enjoy this book. The blurb was amazing, and the guest post I read by the author on Chuck Wendig’s blog really pumped me up. It seemed like it was going to fling itself into my Top 10 YA books, which is hard to do (especially considering most of the list is filled with heavyweight trilogies).
This book was … disappointing. I do not enjoy writing bad reviews so I’ll keep this short and as painless as possible. I almost hope Brozek doesn’t read this.
Melissa Allen, a teenager in a small town in South Dakota, goes to sleep. She wakes up the next morning to find that everyone in the state has mysteriously died in their sleep, her sister and brother-in-law included. On top of all this, Melissa is on house arrest, she’s supposed to be at the doctor soon, and her meds are almost gone …. is it possible she’s to blame for her family’s deaths, and the rest of it is just all in her head?
Literally the only thing I liked about this book was the main character isn’t the picture of perfection; she’s on probation and suffers from mental and emotional disorders, but even that isn’t well-executed (not to mention, based on the cover art, she’s still a gorgeous blonde with perfect skin and a runway-ready body that I seriously doubt belongs to a 14-year-old). There’s a LOT of telling, not much showing, and I really hate that phrase so I’ll go into what I mean here. The main character (whose name I literally already forgot, she’s so flat) explains a couple times what happens to her during her episodes, which is interesting and seems well-researched. When she has to explain to someone else the need to go back for her lost meds, though, it seems like she’s reading from one of those old-school Pill Books that lists all the side effects and interactions of every pill. It felt like reading Wikipedia, not like listening to a 14-year-old explain something she finds obvious to someone who should know better.
The story never really touches on what caused her to develop these conditions, even though it’s implied that she wasn’t born with them. (Also, why the hell was she in juvie in the first place? Did I miss that part, or… ?) The one traumatic event in her life is explicitly stated to have exacerbated but not caused the problems. And the twist hinted at in the blurb (Is the apocalypse real? Or did she kill her guardians and hallucinate it all?) is only barely mentioned, certainly not mined to its full potential. It comes into play only in the last five pages or so, and is quickly hand-waved aside.
Finally, the horror reveal comes too early and is too obvious. By the time you ‘see’ the monster, you basically already know what it is, and honestly, it’s kind of stupid. It’s so implausible and what explanation we get is reaching and still comes up thin and unlikely.
I didn’t even bother purchasing the second two books.
How I found it: Guest post on an author blog
Genre: Young adult; sci-fi; horror
Does it pass the Bechdel test? No
Is it a standalone? No
So what worked? You can tell there’s a tiny morsel of a good idea buried in here, and I wanted so badly for the author to reach in and grab it and run with it, but she never did. This story has massive potential, none of it realized.
What didn’t work? The utterly flat main character (for several reasons), the unconvincing monsters, the thin veneer of resolution, the pacing, etc. etc.
Overall: I haven’t been quite so disappointed in a book in awhile. It’s also the first trilogy I’ve utterly given up on. I can’t with this book. The author makes an effort at the quick pacing of many popular writers but it seems to get away from her. The main character is not well developed and it seems she was only given a mental illness in an effort to perform diversity, but it comes across as pandering and patronizing. This one is a definite skip.
For the last couple of years, I’ve made some resolutions that have been a little outside the box, I suppose you could say. For 2014, I resolved to become the person I used to be. Yes, to some that sounds a bit odd, I’m sure, but somehow after college I started morphing into this quiet hermit of a person who wasn’t intrusive, wasn’t offensive, wasn’t obnoxious. Wasn’t anything, really.
But, you say, isn’t it good not to be offensive?
Of course! I don’t mean storming around shouting swear words in church or racial slurs in crowds or anything like that. I mean, I started going out of my way never to hurt anyone’s feelings in the slightest, even when that meant withholding necessary truths or even allowing myself to be hurt. I wanted to be the person I used to be, because I used to be someone who was outgoing, confident, funny, adventurous… but I suddenly realized I’d become the opposite of all those things. I don’t know when it started or why, but I knew I hated it and wanted to change.
So in 2014 I decided to start identifying places in my life where I’d allowed myself to become a doormat again, and either change my own behavior or start cutting out the people who abused my silence.
I got a tattoo.
In 2015, I made a more concrete resolution: Stop giving other people so much control of my thoughts and actions.
It’s good, to an extent, to care about what others think of you. Really, isn’t that what stops us from doing a lot of things we really want to do but shouldn’t? Like finishing that box of donuts by yourself or texting your ex or fill-in-the-blank. It helps us keep the reputation we want. I don’t want people to think I’m a cruel and heartless person, but I also don’t want them to think I’m easily manipulated, waiting to be used for their purposes.
I forced myself to sit down and think about the areas of my life where other people’s opinions didn’t and shouldn’t matter:
- My appearance
- My career goals
- My educational goals
- My writing
- Our family planning decisions
It’s stupid, I know, but I was letting worry over what people thought of me and my choices dictate almost everything I did. I didn’t get another tattoo in 2015 (I wanted to) but we did buy a new house and a new car and make plans for me to go back to school, plans I’ll be acting on very soon.
I got two new piercings. (Just my ears, piercings are the worst)
I dyed my hair every color I could think of, sometimes changing it multiple times a month. It’s now a point of conversation when I see someone at work that I’ve not run into in a few weeks.
So for 2016, I’m continuing in the same theme. This year, I’m going to stop coddling everyone around me at my own expense. I’m not going to cause needless drama or seek out confrontation, but I’ve spent the last several years bowing my head and biting my tongue and hiding my tears when what I really should have done was say what needed to be said, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. The truth really does hurt, even when you choose not to expose it. I could go in depth about what brought me to this decision, but it was a hard one to make, so I’ve spent enough time already trying to parse it.
I feel I’m making the right choice. It’s time to stop putting myself last just so everyone else feels safe and happy no matter what. It’s time to stop excusing every offense with phrases like “that’s just the way s/he is” and “it’s okay, I don’t mind” or “things will be different next time.” But what’s right isn’t always easy, so I know this year’s resolution may be more difficult than last year’s. But I think there are better and brighter things ahead, and I’m excited to see them arrive.